30 January 2008

Abu Dhabi hosts first energy meeting

January 26 - February 08, 2007
Issue 41

Alternative sources of energy must be applied - UAEU researchers

A month after the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the UAE took on the lead to propose ‘cleaner and safer’ energy sources that could annihilate the environmental problem, January 21-23.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, over 80 speakers, 5,000 delegates and 180 international exhibitors participated in the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) to discuss the future of the energy industry, protect the stability of global energy markets and emphasise the need for alternative energy.

Specifically, they talked about Sustainable Architecture and Green Buildings; Future Energy Policy and Strategy; Financing Sustainable Development and Sustainable Cities; Carbon Management; Turning Waste into Energy; Solar Energy; Clean Transportation; Geothermal Energy; Fuel Cells; Ocean Power; Biofuels; Wind Energy; Carbon Neutral Buildings; and Urban Density and Design.

A workshop on Cleaner Technologies for Economic Growth and a Better Environment organized by the World Energy Council (WEC) was also held after the three-day summit, January 24.

At the Forefront

Two researchers of the UAE University who attended the event and workshops applauded the UAE government for initiating a global challenge. “The UAE has made the right decision: to go with renewable energy and combat climate change. It may be a little late, but way better than not. And UAE is surely at the forefront of GCC countries and the Middle East when it comes to renewable energy. The recent energy summit was a good thing,” said Dr. Abbas Fardoun, Assistant Professor of the Electrical Engineering Department of UAE University.

Dr. Muftah El-Naas, Associate Professor in the Chemical and Petroleum Department of UAE University, also approved. “Global warming is an important issue, and the UAE has always promoted clean environment and energy-efficient systems. It is a very smart move. To depend only on one energy source is, eventually, to find yourself lagging behind. It is good to look onto different sources, however, this does not mean that fossil fuels are out.”

Currently, the Abu Dhabi government has contributed $15 billion to finance projects on solar, wind and hydrogen power; carbon reduction and management; sustainable development; education; manufacturing; and research and development. The emirate is also building the ‘world’s greenest city,’ where carbon, wastes and cars emitting poisonous gases would not be found.

“Masdar City will question conventional patterns of urban development, and set new benchmarks for sustainability and environmentally friendly design… Masdar is an example of the paradigm shift that is needed,” Dr. Sultan al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, was noted sayin.

Still though, there is more to be done. “Most Emiratis are ready to embrace renewable energy. But it is not enough. People in the UAE still spend more on electricity - they still do not turn off the lights or shut down the A/C when no one is using it. Civil societies are also less powerful. What this society should do is to take on the lead and not to wait upon the government to do so. They should not just keep on watching, but become a part of the game,” Dr. Fardoun said.

“I would encourage that we first determine the goal of our society. I do not think having renewable energy is a goal by itself but, rather, to make Earth friendlier, cleaner and safer. We should care about our ozone layer. We should care about global warming. We should care to save energy. We should care to recycle. We should care to protect our society. There are many things that we can do and everyone - educators, media, and private industries – can do something if everyone does his or her job,” he added.

The option

To develop alternative sources of energy is the only way the two researchers deem could restrain the environmental problem. “We are looking on how to treat and refine wastewater. You know, the UAE desalination plants generate about 10 tons of wastewater every second which is usually sent back to the sea. We are trying to find ways to utilize these huge amounts of wastewater by reacting it with carbon dioxide, reducing its salinity and using it for irrigation. Thus, we deal with two major environmental problems at the same time: wastewater and carbon dioxide emission.” Dr. El-Naas said.

“Recycling or turning wastes into energy has many advantages. The most important of which is minimizing waste and protecting the environment. The only disadvantage I can see from it is the tendency for some companies to be more waste-oriented since there is way to manage it anyway.”

There is also the possibility of ‘capturing’ carbon dioxide and ‘storing’ it. “The objective of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is, as the name implies, to capture carbon dioxide, store it, and then utilize it for useful purposes such as in petrochemical reactions, wastewater management or enhanced oil recovery (i.e. displacing oil).”

“CCS can definitely help in the reduction of global warming. Research shows that more than 50% of global warming is caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Scientifically, it is clear that we should reduce it,” Dr. El-Naas further explained.

Dr. Fardoun, on the other hand, sees renewable energy as a must. “Renewable energy must be applied to resist climate change as well as to counter the increasing oil cost. The UAE may be an oil-rich country but we could not know if it would still be after 50 years. We have to prepare for that.”

Renewable energy is a ‘clean’ form of energy where there is no emission of carbon dioxide. Developing it could also replace limited reserves of energy, which currently comes mostly from oil only. “Another good reason is that you will be going to find all the uses of technology and not when it is not there anymore. Technology is not magic. Renewable energy is not magic at all. All we need to do is to work on it to be ready.”

“But at the end of the day, what the industry will be deciding on is money. Money is the bottom line. And that is part of the trade-off policymakers need to decide on, a trade-off between now and the future – how much we are paying now and how much the next generations will pay to fix these warming effects… Wind energy could cost 8 cents per kilowatt-hour; solar energy could cost 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. But these extra cents we would pay now could save us a lot of money down the road.”

“The other reason is infrastructure. Renewable energy would require, at least for now, much real estate and it could cost a lot. Here in the UAE, we can apply solar energy. We have the sun for many days of the year and it is very practical. I would also not rule out wind energy and nuclear energy. But, as I said, they would have to pay more for real estate.”

“I think though they can make up for it. To wait for 50 years more is not a wise decision because you know that something is going to happen [because of climate change] and yet you do nothing about it,” Dr. Fardoun said.

Dr. El-Naas also thinks the same way. “We have to manage our wastes somehow. It is not only beneficial, but it is a must. If we do not deal with them now, it will be very difficult to manage them in the future. If you always look into the negative effect, you will never do anything. We need to do what we can. We cannot just say that this is not possible. We can minimize the emissions of carbon dioxide and eventually, make a difference.”

“The UAE is very small country, but we generate a lot of waste. If you look at how much waste we generate, we may rank among the highest. Everything is in plastic, and they are just thrown away. Recycling may not convert things into energy, but it makes waste useful. We should also lessen our dependency on cars, which contribute to carbon dioxide emission, and utilize public transports more.”

“We cause these carbon dioxide emissions and global warming because of the industrial globalization we have now. If you look at our region, we never had any problems with climate change, until last year when we had a hurricane in Oman. This is one of the consequences of global warming; I am not sure if we should be passive and just leave everything like this. We are definitely responsible.”

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