UAE hit by excess energy use

The UAE is suffering from high carbon rates in its air because of excessive energy consumption due to much car driving, cooling systems and large water desalination production, a prominent energy expert has said.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), said reliance on renewable energy, including solar power, could largely depress the country’s consumption of oil and other conventional energy resources and consequently reduce carbon rates.

“You need to put the carbon footprint in context. We are living in a very harsh climatic environment. There are no fresh water resources. The only option is desalination which is extremely energy intensive,” he said in remarks published by the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), which hosted an energy conference this week.

“With temperatures we have for the large part of the year in this country, air conditioning is an absolute necessity. So, I think there are elements of carbon footprint which are important, but which can be mitigated to some extent….the problem is that we also have wasteful habits… So people are driving here excessively on very cheap subsidised petrol.”

Amin stressed that cooling, sea water desalination and other structural aspects must be handled through alternative energy “methodologies” in the long term. “You have some new renewable energy projects that are able to directly input into air-conditioning. There is an experiment at Masdar with low level geothermal for air-conditioning, which provides us with some great possibilities,” he said.

“They (UAE authorities) are thinking about solar energy for desalination, which again is providing great opportunities…. there is also need for education and an incentives programme to get people to adopt better habits.”

Besides Masdar, the world’s largest carbon-free project, Abu Dhabi is planning to launch a $1billion venture to remove more than five million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year from the emirate’s air.

By sending such immense CO2 quantities back into oil reservoirs deep underneath the emirate’s desert, the emirate’s main onshore oil producing company will be able to increase recovery rates from its hydrocarbon wells.

The Abu Dhabi Carbon Capture and Storage Project is the first major CO2 hunting in the world and will allow the country to sharply reduce its carbon emission rates, already among the world’s highest relative to per capita.

The project involves the construction of two carbon capture plants near the main power facilities in Taweela north of Abu Dhabi city and at the Emirates Aluminium Company (Emal) in Musaffah just at the eastern entrance of the capital.

“The construction of the plants will be completed in 2015 but there will be a second stage afterwards…the locations were selected because of the large rate of consumption of oil and gas at those sites,” an official said.

“Carbon and other gases will be hunted and captured at those sites…those gas will then be separated from CO2 and released into air as they are not harmful to the atmosphere…..CO2 will then be kept in compressors, where water is separated and removed…..afterwards, CO2 will be transferred via a 500-kilometre high-pressure pipeline network and sent back into oil reservoirs underground…for this reason, the project will have a dual effect: it will largely reduce CO2 emission in the atmosphere and at the same time help push crude oil out of the reservoir…this means it will enhance the oilfield’s recovery rate.”

According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, the UAE’s oil and gas consumption grew by as fast as eight per cent annually during 2000-2010, with gas demand soaring from around 31 billion cubic metres to 65 billion cubic metres. Oil consumption surged from 255,000 bpd to over 500,000 bpd.

Amin hailed the UAE’s extensive efforts to develop renewable energy sources, saying the country has emerged as a global leader in this field. “It is quite interesting to see that a country that has built its foundations on hydrocarbon energy industry is now developing a very serious approach to renewable energy….. I think it is part of the strategic thinking in the UAE leadership, which is how do we position ourselves in the future because oil is not an infinite commodity,” he said.

“Therefore, the thinking is: where are we going to be in the future as an energy economy, which has built up capacity and knowledge in the field of energy, and where is the next frontier for investments? I think this thinking has led to brilliant ideas like Masdar, along with the creation of the Masdar Institute and the hosting of the future energy summit. All of these are wonderful initiatives…..when you add to that the hosting of the global organisation for renewable energy in the UAE (Irena), it shows that you are serious about this.”

Amin said the UAE is “very strategic” in the way it is looking at investment opportunities outside the country, referring to a state-of-the-art solar power plant in Spain, in which the UAE is investing. “It is a highly innovative concentrating solar thermal plant with salt storage,” he said, adding that he has just visited that project.

“And I think these strategic investments are positioning the UAE not only to develop renewable energy regionally, but also as a global leader in renewable energy. So, I think it is a very interesting direction.”