Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

Fog fences in a hamlet on the outskirts of the southern coastal city of Sidi Ifni in Morocco. Fog collection projects have already been installed in Oman, and have been recommended as a means of saving water in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018

Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

  • Fog harvesting, hydro-electricity and waste-to-energy are among the innovative technologies rolling out in the region
  • The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.

LONDON: From “harvesting fog” in Oman to vertical farming in Dubai, Gulf states are looking beyond solar power in the race to develop innovative renewable technologies.
A surge in investment, triggered by a regionwide economic diversification push, is helping to transform the region into an unlikely global hub for renewables innovation.
Dubai utility DEWA this year signed an agreement to study plans to build a 400MW pumped hydro storage power station — using water from Hatta Dam to generate hydro-electric power from water pumped using solar-powered turbines.
It forms part of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 which aims to make the emirate a global hub for the green economy and source 75 per cent of its total power output from clean energy.
But it is only one of dozens of major renewable energy projects under way as the huge investment program in solar and offshore wind power in the region extends to other technologies.
“As renewable energy costs decline, technology advances and deployment accelerates around the world, we are entering a new age of energy transformation, with renewable energy becoming a significant driver of economic growth, job creation, and socioeconomic development,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Urbanization in the Gulf is also spurring investment as the region’s big cities warm up.
Arup, the London-based engineering consultancy, warns that “arid” cities need to innovate more or become less habitable, as they become drier.
Its report “Cities Alive: Rethinking Cities in Arid Environments,” argues that as air conditioning has enabled the growth of arid cities, many are seeing an “urban heat island effect,” where they become hotter than the surrounding rural areas, increasing water use and accelerating energy consumption.
The report urges cities to adopt measures such as industrial-scale fog and dew harvesting and cooling pavements that can reduce ambient temperatures by up to 7 degrees, as well as building more energy-efficient buildings.
“Cities in arid regions are expected to experience the highest rates of natural population growth and urbanization in the coming century. Yet most are still being planned and designed based on a global city-making paradigm from the 1950s. Cities need to adopt strategies that combine technological innovation with locally adapted and climatically appropriate solutions,” said Hrvoje Cindric, an associate at Arup.
Many cutting-edge renewables technologies are being developed at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
Masdar City includes IRENA’s headquarters and the new Masdar Institute and aims to be the first city to operate without fossil-fueled vehicles at street level.
“The region will be exploring different applications but they will always be secondary to wind and solar. This is where the main investment is,” says Zoheir Hamedi, MENA program officer at IRENA.
The Indian Ocean coast of Oman is seen as offering strong potential for wind power, as is Saudi Arabia’s northern quarter.
But Hamedi also points to the potential which bio-energy could offer as a renewable energy source in the region.
On this front, The Emirates Waste to Energy Company, a joint venture between Masdar and Bee’ah, signed terms earlier this year with CNIM on a design, build and operate agreement for the first waste-to-energy facility in the UAE in Sharjah.
Due for completion by 2020, the plant will treat more than 300,000 tons of municipal solid waste each year and generate around 30MW of electricity.
Meanwhile, in January, Dubai Municipality signed a 2.5 billion dirhams ($680,700) contract to build a major new waste-to-energy plant at Warsan which will treat 1.82 million tonnes of waste annually and generate some 185MW of electricity.
Swiss engineering company HZI and Belgian firm Besix Group are expected to start construction this year and the plant is expected to be partially operating by 2020.
Geothermal energy also offers potential in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where a study has highlighted the scope for generating energy from a series of hot springs in the Al-Khouba area of Jizan province in the south west of the country.
Fog harvesting using vast vertical sheets of canvas has proved a useful source of water in areas of scarcity such as Morocco.
The Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 will use structures that generate solar energy and capture water from humidity in the air to supply much of its water needs.
Fog technology could be useful in KSA, which combines low rainfall with high per-capita water consumption. Data collected over a year at the Rayda reserve weather station suggested fog could provide a supplementary water supply for the agriculture sector in the south west of the Kingdom, according to research in Water and Environment Journal.
Fog collection projects have also been installed in desert areas worldwide, including Oman and Eritrea.
Meanwhile, to accelerate dew harvesting techniques, the partners of the SunGlacier Challenge recently invited teams of universities worldwide to make water from the air.
The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.
“New technologies in energy storage will come to the fore, develop, evolve and become more cost-competitive,” said Dietmar Siersdorfer, chief executive of Siemens Middle East, in a recent report.
Hydrogen is seen as a ripe solution for energy storage from a range of a few kilowatts to gigawatts, for several weeks.
Decentralised systems will also allow power users in industry to produce energy independently for their facilities, reducing transmission losses and carbon emissions.
The Siemens report also highlights energy efficiency as a major area for growth in the region, potentially generating savings of up to 30 per cent.
It also notes the rise in energy efficiency services companies (ESCOs) in the region.
The UAE already has about 30 such companies, more than half of them based in Dubai.
Regional governments have stepped up efforts to remove subsidies in the energy sector in recent years as part of a broader push to wean Gulf economies off oil dependence.
However subsidies remain in place in some countries, which can deter investment in renewables, according to analysts.
“The whole thing needs to be re-thought with a proper plan,” said Rahmat Poudineh, lead senior research fellow, electricity at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
For renewable resources to be integrated economically into the existing energy market, electricity tariffs need to be reformed. Letting renewables compete with existing sources of energy, on a level playing field, is the key issue, he said.
The region also needs to invest in energy efficiency. “Saving 1KWh (kilowatt-hour) of energy is much cheaper than producing 1KWh of clean energy,” Poudineh said.


In streaming wars, Disney reaches beyond kids and families

Updated 12 November 2019

In streaming wars, Disney reaches beyond kids and families

  • Disney’s marketing force is reaching beyond its traditional family audience to send a message that its $7-a-month subscription service Disney+ offers something for all ages

LOS ANGELES: During commercial breaks in a broadcast of World Wrestling Entertainment’s WWE SmackDown, fans were shown ads for Walt Disney Co’s new streaming service, Disney+. So were “Monday Night Football” viewers and video gamers watching Twitch.
“Try to keep up,” said Captain Marvel in one ad after a series of fast-paced clips from “Star Wars,” “The Simpsons,” “The Avengers” and other Disney-owned hits from outside of its deep catalogue of children’s classics.
Disney’s marketing force is reaching beyond its traditional family audience to send a message that its $7-a-month subscription service Disney+ offers something for all ages. The service debuted on Tuesday in the United States, Canada and The Netherlands.
“It’s incumbent upon us to market it the right way to emphasize the fact that it’s not just for kids,” Disney executive Kevin Mayer said during a briefing at the company’s Burbank, California, headquarters. “It’s all family friendly, but everyone can enjoy this product.”
Disney has told investors it can hook 60 million to 90 million customers within about five years as it competes for customers in a crowded streaming market dominated by Netflix Inc. 
Signing up adults who do not have children at home is part of that plan.
Consumers may not realize that after a series of acquisitions Disney is much more than classics like “Cinderella” and “Mary Poppins” that charmed generations of families. The company now owns the celebrated “Star Wars” movie franchise; Iron Man, the Hulk and dozens of other Marvel superheroes; “Toy Story” animation house Pixar, and nature programming channel National Geographic.
Previously released movies and TV series from all of those brands, plus 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” are available on Disney+ alongside decades of Disney’s family-centric offerings.
Disney+ also offers new programming from those brands.
To raise awareness, the company is promoting Disney+ during sports and primetime TV telecasts to get in front of what Hollywood calls the four quadrants of viewers: male, female, young and old.
“We’re unmatched in quality and appeal across our four-quadrant audience spanning a variety of genres, formats and arenas, and will continue to build on that year after year,” said Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for Disney+.
In addition to the wrestling, football and gaming contests, ads ran during the World Series and the ABC News late-night program “Nightline,” and on social media networks.
Early testing in The Netherlands, where Disney offered a free two-month trial of Disney+, attracted a “very large and diverse audience,” said Mayer, who runs Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international unit.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” a series aimed at 18- to 49-year olds, ranked as the most-watched piece of content, Mayer said. Next was tween-oriented show “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” followed by “Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” a cartoon for young children.
“Our hypothesis was we will have a lot of different types of viewership, that it’s not going to be centered among any one of our brands,” Mayer said. “It’s quite a nice confirmation of what we want accomplished.”
The initial response in The Netherlands has cheered industry analysts.
“They have some surprising and encouraging signs about this potential that Disney+ is not just kids and family,” Forrester analyst Jim Nail said.
But unlike Netflix, Disney+ limits how far its programming will go to attract older viewers. To keep it family friendly, the service will not have any R-rated movies or TV shows designated TV-MA for mature audiences.
Programming considered too adult for Disney+ may stream on Hulu, which Disney also owns. That will include FX series such as “American Horror Story” and “Fargo” and possibly movies starring Deadpool, a Marvel character known for foul-mouthed humor, when rights become available.
“There are boundaries to what we’ll put on Disney+,” Mayer said. “’Deadpool’ is definitely not for Disney+.”