Although the UAE population’s stood at 8.2m in 2010, according to the latest information from the UAE’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s per capita energy consumption is one of the highest in the world. A combination of factors like high per capita income and a warm climate contribute to the rate of energy usage. Dubai has one of the highest average individual electricity usage rates in the world.

Also like its neighbours, Dubai produces the vast majority of its electricity from burning fossil fuels. Electricity output is split between gas turbines (76%), which burn the fuel directly, and steam turbines (24%), which use it to create steam. Both directly or indirectly rely on natural gas. Unlike many of its GCC neighbours, however, Dubai does not produce its own gas in significant quantities.

SUNNY SIDE UP: As part of its broader goal to diversify electricity production, the authorities are setting their sights on increasing solar power’s role in the emirate’s energy equation. “In line with Dubai’s energy strategy, the plan is to have 5% of renewables in the electricity supply mix by 2030,” Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, the vice-chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) and managing director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), said at a news conference in late 2011. “This is mainly going to be solar.” The crown jewel of these efforts is the planned Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. Named for Dubai’s current ruler, the park is set to raise solar energy production over time, working up to 1000 MW by 2030. Upon completion the park is set to cover an area of over 48 sq km and cost Dh12bn ($3.3bn).

CONTRACTS: In February 2012 DEWA announced that it had awarded an engineering consulting contract to Austrian-headquartered M/S ILF Consulting Engineers (ILF). The contract puts ILF at the helm of designing, supervising and starting up the first phase of construction. The project’s tender, which was issued in November 2011, received six competitive bids. The first phase is scheduled for completion by 2013, according to Fatima Al Shamsi, the vice-president of privatisation and business development at DEWA. The public utility accepted bids through the third quarter of 2012, and awarded it to US firm First Solar in mid-October. So far interest in the solar park is strong. In May 2012 DEWA said it received around 150 expressions of interest from contractors.

CUTTING CARBON: In addition to providing greater energy security, investments in renewable energy are designed to better prepare the emirate for its plans to reduce carbon emissions. The authorities have set the target of a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. To achieve this, a combination of cleaner energy sources, higher efficiency and environmentally friendly technologies will be crucial.

Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence (DCCE) is leading this drive for reducing emissions. Established after the signing of agreements between the DSCE and the UN Development Programme in 2009 and 2012, DCCE aims to encourage a business-led approach to de-carbonising the economy. “Dubai version 2.0 is about sustainability,” Ivano Iannelli, the CEO of DCCE, told OBG. “Some actions of today may not appear to make sense now, but they are absolutely mapped out for future goals.”

DCCE is approaching the issue of carbon emissions from several different directions. One major drive is to gain more information about the current carbon situation. To that end, DCCE is now working to create an inventory of Dubai’s greenhouse gas emissions using the requirements laid down by the International Panel on Climate Change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This inventory is set to build on a carbon dioxide study released by the DSCE at the end of 2011.

INFORMATION GATHERING: DCCE is also working on ways to improve information gathering for the future by developing a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) framework. MRV is set to provide information from the DSCE’s members, including the main utilities, energy and manufacturing stakeholders. The first workshop on the project’s framework was held in May 2012.

Once the current situation is assessed and ongoing monitoring methods are in place, DCCE will be in a better position to recommend reduction targets for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Rather than attempting to impose reductions on businesses directly, DCCE plans to take a market-oriented approach. The idea is to build an incentive structure that rewards businesses for investing in carbon reduction and steers them away from excessive emissions. Critical to the latter, according to DCCE, is the monetisation of emissions. This idea has been established in a number of other environmental frameworks, including the European Trading Scheme and the Clean Development Mechanism defined under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol.

The outcome of the Dubai carbon abatement strategy will provide the basis for a policy framework to reduce emissions. It should also help motivate industry to achieve high standards in sustainability.

In June 2012 Emirates Group, which operates Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airlines, signed a memorandum of understanding with DCCE to work on developing low-carbon activities for the group’s ground operations in Dubai. “DCCE will provide its expertise on carbon to support Emirates,” Al Tayer said after the signing. “A number of projects are being explored as part of the memorandum of understanding; including energy-efficient lighting for Emirates Group accommodation buildings, solar hot-water systems and waste-to-energy technologies.”

TRADE WINDS: Dubai’s work on renewables is by no means confined to the emirate’s borders. Major firms are also gaining renewable energy expertise abroad. In January 2012, Drydocks World, the ship repair and shipbuilding arm of state-controlled Dubai World, announced that it would build the world’s largest offshore high-voltage direct current wind power convertor platform. The contract for the project, called DolWind beta, was awarded by Norway-based energy company Aibel AS. Located in the German sector of the North Sea, the 100- by 774-metre platform is set to serve a wind cluster capable of producing 900 MW of electricity. The DolWind beta will convert wind turbine energy from alternating current to direct current and then transfer that energy via undersea cables to onshore sites.

The project is scheduled to be complete in late 2013, after which it will be sailed from Dubai Dry-docks to the North Sea. Once there, it can be reassembled, tested and installed. “This is one of the several pioneering projects that we have initiated especially to support the wind energy sector,” Khamis Juma Buamim, the chairman of Drydocks World and Maritime World, said in June 2012. “We have been successful in gaining a foothold within the renewable energy field, which will remain one of the areas of our prime focus in the years to come.”

Involvement in renewable energy abroad could boost the emirate’s domestic industry, too. As Dubai-based firms, such as Drydocks World, pick up more international contracts, they are set to build up expertise in handling green energy projects. As these projects come on-line, they could also do much to boost the brand power of Dubai-based companies, not only in renewables but across various sectors.