While Abu Dhabi is thought to have 200trn cubic feet of gas, giving it the fifth-largest such reserves in the world, it is unable to keep up with ever-increasing energy demands to power its booming economy. As a result, the emirate is looking towards developing and implementing alternative energy sources.
A prime example can be seen in the development of Masdar City, a 6-square-kilometre development powered entirely by renewable energy. It is one of many projects that are part of the Masdar Initiative, a government programme dedicated to developing and promoting sustainable energy and clean technology. It is planned to be a zero-carbon, zero-waste green community in the centre of the emirate and it is hoped it will establish a world-class standard for implementing integrated sustainable technologies. It was recently announced that phase one of the city would be completed by 2010.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of Masdar Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, which is responsible for the project, declined to give figures for the cost of overall development nor how much has already been invested in the project. He told local media, "We have an unlimited budget for renewable energy projects."
As Abu Dhabi moves towards developing alternative and renewable energy, the emirate must deal with another pressing energy issue: gas shortages.
Natural gas is the main energy source for both domestic power generation and water desalination in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Until recently, recovery and transport techniques made natural gas too expensive to collect; so much of it was flared off at the wellhead. Advances in technology have changed that. Today, Abu Dhabi exports up to 6m tonnes a year of liquefied natural gas, mainly to Japan. But most of its reserves are sour gas in offshore fields, which are expensive to develop.
"The vast majority of power generation projects in the Gulf are for power stations using conventional gas for their energy source," David Weaver, group CEO of ESR Technology, a global engineering, safety and risk management company, told an industry publication.
"The region is struggling to find enough suitable gas to meet future power demands and the first signs are beginning to emerge of major investment in the region into alternatives," said Weaver.
Because approximately 40% of the natural gas produced in Abu Dhabi is used to aid in oil recovery, rather than being used as a source of energy, efforts are being made to find alternatives to this process. The Masdar Initiative is currently conducting a feasibility study for a carbon capture and storage (CCS) network for enhanced oil recovery in the emirate. The new technology would use carbon dioxide instead of natural gas to pressurise oil wells, thus freeing up gas supplies while also storing carbon dioxide in a clean and efficient way. It is estimated a fully developed CCS network would cut carbon emissions throughout the UAE by 40% while boosting oil production by nearly 10%.
Other Masdar projects include a design study to develop a $500m solar power plant. The study will be looking at the design, supply, installation and operation of a 500-megawatt plant.
"The project aims to decrease the use of oil and gas in power generation to preserve hydrocarbon reserves," said Weaver.
In collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Taqa), Masdar is looking to develop a hydrogen-fired power plant. The project is in the early stages of study and has a budget of $100m. The Taqa is also carrying out a study to develop a $1bn coal-fired power plant.
Mubadala, the government's investment arm, has earmarked $4bn to conduct a study on the feasibility of building a nuclear power plant. This initiative is independent of the $10bn GCC-wide nuclear programme for a power generation and water desalination plant to be built in a yet-to-be-chosen country. Nuclear power will not, however, solve power problems in the short to medium term. Analysts have said it will take at least 15 years before the groundbreaking of a nuclear plant.
While many of these projects are still in the study and development stages, they are a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to finding alternative and clean sources of energy.