The UAE federal government is hoping to attract $100bn in investment in environmental enterprises into the country by 2020. On the emirate level, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) estimates the emirate’s environmental market potential at Dh960m ($261.4m) in 2017 and that it will grow to Dh1.13bn ($307.7m) by 2020. According to Shurooq, key components of the sector are renewable energy generation and sustainable energy efficiency solutions.
The government has identified the environment as a key pillar of growth. Over 200 delegates who attended the Second Sharjah Forum held in January 2017 were told the environment sector could expect to benefit from the emirate’s record Dh22bn ($6bn) 2017 budget, in which 30% of expenditure was earmarked for infrastructure and 41% for economic development. “Due to our efforts in developing a sustainable government integration framework, our economy continues to open its doors to more international investors, strengthening Sharjah’s position as a top investment destination in the region,” Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, chairperson of Shurooq, said at the forum.
In early 2017 the results of Sharjah’s 2015 census revealed that the emirate’s population had reached 1.4m, up from just 75,000 residents in 1975. This rapid growth has fuelled demand for power and water. To meet this, an innovative solution unveiled in January 2017 aims to use the rubbish generated by consumers to help meet their need for electricity. Sharjah has set a target of zero waste to landfills for 2020. At Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2017 environmental management firm Bee’ah announced it will partner with Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar to build a waste-to-energy plant in Sharjah. The new generation facility will be able to use 300,000 tonnes of solid waste from landfill a year. According to Bee’ah, the facility will burn 37.5 tonnes of waste per hour to produce 30 MW of energy, and the company aims to use these techniques to deliver 90 MW to the electricity grid in the emirate. Bee’ah collects 2.3m tonnes of waste from nearly 1m households in Sharjah, almost 70% of which is processed by its recycling facilities.
The new development with Masdar is one of a number of new initiatives being rolled out by the company in its 10th year as it seeks to find new solutions to waste disposal and techniques to encourage consumers to dispose of refuse responsibly. In December 2016 Bee’ah signed a five-year agreement with Abu Dhabi’s Centre of Waste Management that will see the two businesses pooling their knowledge and sharing best practices to produce more efficient and sustainable systems for waste collection and management. Both companies are aiming to increase the diversion rate of landfill waste to recycling or energy generation in order to produce an environmentally sustainable future for Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
Bee’ah has adopted a number of technological solutions to encourage consumers to be more responsible. One idea is a reverse vending machine coupled with the Bee’ah Rewards Scheme. The reverse vending machine allows people to surrender their recyclable goods, such as plastic drinking bottles and aluminium cans, in collection bins and receive a printed receipt containing a unique bar code that can be used to accumulate rewards points and enter monthly prize draws. The machines are due to be placed in shopping malls, universities and other public spaces in Sharjah. Prizes will include Apple TVs, iPads, espresso machines and holidays to Paris, Hong Kong and Barcelona. An app has also been created enabling customers to enter their voucher codes from their smartphones to make participation easier. Speaking at the January 2017 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Khaled Al Huraimel, group CEO, Bee’ah, said, “This programme incentivises environmental responsibility, which will increase recycling levels and spread environmental awareness in the community…The role of each and every individual is critical to positive environmental change in the UAE.”
Another initiative that is aimed at tourists visiting the emirate is the use of waste bins offering free Wi-Fi. The first 10 bins were installed in the centre of Sharjah City, and on the Buhaira Corniche during Ramadan 2016. In the first half of 2017, a further 74 Wi-Fi bins will be installed in areas frequented by tourists in the emirate. The bins offer free Wi-Fi for a 40-metre radius.
Another key initiative due to take place in Sharjah involves e-waste, which is created by used electrical equipment such as phones and computers. The UN University has launched a global initiative called Solving the E-Waste Problem (STEP), which aims to fund research on the harmful impact of e-waste and to encourage the reduction of materials used in manufacturing, the recycling of components, and the reuse of computer and mobile phone equipment. Bee’ah is planning to build an e-waste recycling facility in Sharjah and hopes to expand further in other parts of the UAE.
Researchers estimate that citizens in the UAE generate 17.2 kg per capita of e-waste a year. The country as a whole produces 101,000 tonnes of e-waste and is the second-biggest producer of electronic waste in the GCC, disposing of an estimated 642,000 tonnes in 2015. Recycling of e-waste can be profitable as precious metals can be extracted from components, but the same electronic components can also contain toxic elements such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium that can leach into the soil and aquifers if the equipment is not disposed of carefully. Bee’ah is working with Shurooq and Gulf Islamic Investments to build the first e-waste plant.
Sharjah is also fostering a sense of environmental responsibility among its younger citizens through an awards scheme for schools and universities. The fourth annual Sharjah Sustainability Award ceremony took place in April 2016. The awards were created under the directives of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council of the UAE and ruler of Sharjah. Students are encouraged to work on projects under five Green Schools categories, including environmental awareness poster design, short films on the issue, photography of wild life and the surrounding environment, sustainable environmental applications, and water and electricity waste reduction. University students were tasked with producing a smartphone app for one of the Desert Park’s learning centres or an interactive map of protected environmental areas in Sharjah. In December 2016 it was announced that university researchers would work with Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) to find innovative ways to produce power and water more cleanly and to reduce consumption patterns. Under a memorandum of understanding signed by SEWA and the University of Sharjah, nine research projects will be undertaken in the fields of desalination and power generation using renewable energy, effective distribution of water and electricity to reduce waste, and rationalisation of water and energy consumption. The results of the research will be applied by SEWA in the future.
Hand in hand with measures to improve the environment by offering carrots such as research finding and awards, Sharjah is also prepared to use the proverbial stick to punish those who deliberately break environmental laws. Fines for illegal hunting, tree cutting, hazardous waste disposal and overgrazing are in the range of Dh1000-50,000 ($272-$13,600). In December 2016 Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) joined forces with the Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority to erect signs and distribute booklets in wilderness areas, reminding visitors of their responsibilities and warning them of the penalties for breaking the law. The EPAA is also working with the Sharjah police to include fines for environmental violations in the e-violations system across the UAE. In a statement released to the press, Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, chairperson of the EPAA, said, “Community involvement in environment protection and biodiversity conservation in Sharjah and the UAE is instrumental to ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations. This community contribution is particularly significant as our environment has a unique variety of rare and endangered species.”
For businesses that can reinforce Sharjah’s dedication to environmental solutions there are opportunities worth billions, according to Shurooq. It highlights the use of solar thermal energy to desalinate water, the development of solar energy generation, solar-powered heating and cooling systems and street lighting schemes using photovoltaic panels. In the future, it also envisages the development of biofuels from saltwater crops. Across the UAE, it estimates these solar markets could be worth Dh183bn ($49.8bn). It also sees opportunities worth Dh1bn ($272.3m) in constructing or retro-fitting buildings to comply with the Emirates Green Building Council’s regulations. Shurooq has also pointed out that many existing buildings in Sharjah have been constructed with poor energy efficiency standards. With the environment firmly on the government’s economic development agenda, and ambitious sustainability targets set for 2020, demand for green technology is likely to grow.