The breakfast meeting was the first event organised by the new Emirates Solar Industry Association (ESIA). Moderated by Jon Nash of the Vinson & Elkins law firm, the expert panel for the gathering included Frank Wouters, Director of Masdar Power and Dr. Lisa Lamont, Assistant Professor at the Petroleum Institute of Abu Dhabi.
Although the UAE is blessed with abundant sunshine due to its geographical location, and interest in solar energy has been growing substantially in recent years, panellists and participants said much remains to be done in order to realize the full potential of the sector in the Emirate.
“Many solar companies have set up in the UAE in order to further develop the industry and currently there are more than 70 companies engaged in solar business within the UAE” said Sami Khoreibi, CEO of Enviromena Power Systems.
But while Abu Dhabi has established the objective of generating seven percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020, other Emirates have yet to follow suit.
The seven percent target translates into about 1,500 MW of solar energy. Of this amount, 500 MW are earmarked for Abu Dhabi’s much talked about roof-top program, which aims at installing solar panels on rooftops to generate clean electricity.
However, with no clear direction from the government, the only development that has taken place is a 2MW pilot project. “Without the governmental strategy, it will be impossible to realize the full potential of solar energy in the UAE” said Vahid Fotuhi of BP Solar.
A vision for a regional hub
In addition to plans on sourcing a sizeable chunk of its electricity needs from solar power, Abu Dhabi plans to become a regional hub for renewable energy.
Steps taken in this regard include setting up the Masdar Initiative and hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency. While attendees agreed these were important and bold steps, they also suggested that without an appropriate framework, including a feed-in tariff system, the future growth of the sector would be hampered.
On the subject of subsidies, participants agreed that current subsidy for conventional energy is one of the main factors impeding the growth of the renewable energy industry in the UAE.
“When factoring in the cost of the subsidy, one would realize that photovoltaic solar power is already on par with conventional energy, the subsidy distorts the true cost of energy,” said Browning Rockwell of SunEdison.
And yet, Karel De Winter from Alsa Solar Systems said, “The UAE has all the elements for developing a successful solar power industry. A great solar power resource, a good deal of solar power companies that are eager to develop this industry, and an evident will from the government to develop renewable energy”.
In the end, participants agreed that a number of key steps need to be taken in order to kick-start this industry, namely introducing the appropriate regulation and frameworks for the sector, creating the appropriate government body that would organize the industry, and introducing the appropriate incentives for the private sector to take part in the development.
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