THE REASONS FOR THE REGION INCREASINGLY turning to 'green' solutions to generate more of its energy requirements are clear, and similar to the reasons most regions of the world are embracing renewable energy technologies.
China, for example, the country widely cited as one of the major reasons global coal, steel and oil prices surged so spectacularly as its economy boomed last year, is proposing to introduce new legislation to encourage the generation of renewable energy. The government will consider making it compulsory for power grids to purchase electricity from small hydro, wind, solar and biomass power sources, with the aim of increasing installed renewable generating capacity to 60GW, or 10% of the nation's power requirements, by 2010.
It is easy to argue that the world, with the possible exception of the United States, is undergoing a fundamental transition away from its reliance on oil energy. Like the great transition away from coal towards a petro-economy in the last century, there is a global shift away from fossil fuels towards new energy systems that are more suited to the economic, security, and environmental needs of the 21st century.
The Middle East and North Africa, a region of around 500m people with a combined gross domestic product of $1,800bn, is currently enjoying a $300bn development boom. The GCC countries, in particular, envisage soaring regional demand for both power and water for numerous residential, commercial, tourism, leisure and entertainment projects.
Major projects under way in the region include the $5bn Dubailand, the $2.5bn Doha Pearl Project, the $1bn new Doha Airport, the new Dubai International Financial Centre and several hotel chains that have committed investments totalling several billion dollars. In short, the GCC area will face power generation costs topping $150bn over the next 20 years.
That makes investing in new and renewable energy to supplement fossil fuel-powered generating capacity not just an interesting alternative but, realistically, a necessity if the desired shift from being dependent on oil revenues to establishing more diversified industrial economies is to be achieved. The main reasons are twofold. Firstly, whilst the Middle East has massive reserves of energy resources in the form of both oil and gas, there is a growing realisation that, as huge as these reserves are, they are ultimately finite. And by developing renewable energy resources, a greater proportion of the oil and gas wealth of the region can be preserved for future generations.
Secondly, the Middle East is as concerned for the environment as any other region of the world. For example, two years ago Dubai, MEE05's host emirate, which produces close to 2.5m barrels of crude oil a day, set up a dedicated department within the country's Ministry of Electricity and Water. The new entity, the Department of Renewable Energy, is responsible for a national programme to assess new projects, disseminate technologies and conduct awareness programmes.
Forecasters are suggesting that around half of the UAE's energy requirements might be derived from renewable energy sources by the middle of this century. Whilst solar energy is likely to be the dominant technology, wind power also has the potential to play an important role.
Taking the later technology first, an extraordinary claim has been made in a 2003 paper entitled Wind Force 12. Describing it as "a blueprint to achieve 12% of the world's electricity from wind power by 2020" the report's authors --the European Wind Energy Association and Greenpeace--concluded that "there are no technical, economic or resource barriers to supplying 12% of the world's electricity needs with wind power alone by 2020; and this against the challenging backdrop of a projected two thirds increase of electricity demand by that date". …