Clean energy expert urges Middle East to adopt cleaner sources of power
The man who once-led Richard Branson’s efforts to combat climate change yesterday criticised the Middle East’s modest adoption of solar power...
...and said the region’s energy strategy will “collapse” if nations don’t urgently adopt cleaner sources of power.
From 2009 until March 2012, Jigar Shah was the first CEO of the Carbon War Room - a non-profit organisation founded by famed billionaire Branson to develop market-driven solutions to climate change.
He remains on its board, although it was in his capacity as partner at Canadian clean-tech investors Inerjys that he took to the stage at the Solar Middle East conference in Dubai yesterday, where he had strong words on the region’s stop-start adoption of solar power.
“If the Middle East doesn’t want to do solar, we are going to spend our time in Chile - where they just gave us a $4 billion concession - or Brazil, South Africa… other places,” Shah warned.
“At some point in time, the Middle East has to catch up - Saudi Arabia can’t keep burning all its oil and eventually not have any to export. The UAE and Kuwait are net importers of natural gas now, because they are burning so much for electricity,” he added.
The region is seeing eight to 10 per cent increases in its electricity consumption per year, and “it is not like you have electric cars everywhere”, he said, adding: “People just waste electricity like it is going out of style here, because you are charging two or three or four cents a kilowatt hour for power.”
He then issued a stark warning.
“Eventually we all know that system is going to collapse upon itself. We are here because we are saying ‘please remember our face when the system collapses on itself so that you can hire us to help you fix it’.”
Shah’s remarks followed a series of talks by solar experts who observed that while the cost of panels and other infrastructure is falling, solar energy is finding it hard to gain traction in a region where the cost of electricity produced by burning fossil fuels is highly subsidised.
Despite high-profile projects like Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City and Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the UAE only anticipates generating seven per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Morocco’s target by the same year is 42 per cent.
One of the strategies that offers promises for nations like the UAE is ‘net metering’ - where consumers fit a solar panel and sell any extra energy not used in their own home.
However, experts at yesterday’s event said current cheap electricity rates blunt the appeal of such schemes and that the UAE’s transient population could make them difficult to sustain.