UAE closes ranks ahead of Cop28

11 October 2023

This package on the UAEs power sector also includes: 

Abu Dhabi to tap Kezad for hydrogen plan
Market expects Abu Dhabi hydrogen policy
Masdar to develop 10GW projects in Malaysia

Firms sign 60MW Sharjah captive solar plant
Masdar and Ewec sign wind power agreement
Firms submit 400MW battery storage interest


State-backed utility companies and off-takers in the UAE are preparing a cachet of projects to boost their green energy credentials in the weeks before the start of Cop28.

In September, Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa) signed agreements for the 1,800MW sixth phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park.

Abu Dhabi state utility Emirates Water & Electricity Company issued the expression of interest (EoI) requests for its fourth utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV4) project and its first two battery energy storage systems shortly after that.

Ewec is also expected to award the contract for the 1,500MW Al-Ajban solar project and inaugurate the 1,500MW Al-Dhafra solar plant prior to or during the climate summit.

The financial investment decision for the green hydrogen project in Ruwais, owned by France’s Engie, the UAE’s Fertiglobe and Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), is likely to be announced right before the start of Cop28.

Crucially, in early October, Adnoc Gas awarded UK-headquartered Petrofac the $615m main engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for a project to develop a carbon capture facility at its Habshan gas processing complex in Abu Dhabi.

The plant will have the capacity to capture and permanently store 1.5 million tonnes a year (t/y) of carbon dioxide.

In Dubai, commercial agreements were reached on 3 October for the emirate’s first independent water project (IWP).

The Hassyan 1 seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) project will have the capacity to treat 818,280 cubic metres of water a day (cm/d), only slightly lower than Abu Dhabi’s Taweela RO plant’s capacity of 919,000 cm/d –  the world’s largest at the time of construction.

The timing of the announcement of these milestones is critical. They help counter the massive scrutiny that the country, particularly Abu Dhabi, faces as it hosts Cop28.

A key area of focus among climate advocates, including the Pope, has been Adnoc Group’s well-documented plan to increase its oil production capacity from 4.5 million barrels a day (b/d) to 5 million b/d by 2027 as part of its “accelerated growth strategy”.

UAE ramps up decarbonisation of water sector

Not just about Cop28

The country’s renewable energy capacity build-up, in fact, began much earlier. It established the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 in 2017, four years before it set a target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The 2017 strategy was intended to steer the country in a direction where the share of fossil fuels – mainly gas – in its energy mix shrank to 38 per cent, while clean energy expanded to 44 per cent.

The same year, the country put in place a water strategy to the year 2036 that aimed to reduce total demand for water resources by 21 per cent, lower the water scarcity index by three degrees and increase reuse of treated water to 95 per cent, among other goals.

Notably, the award of the second phase of Dubai’s MBR solar park, the first solar independent power producer (IPP) scheme in the GCC region, predated the 2017 strategy by two years.

A multibillion-dollar power plant project in Dubai, initially built to run on clean coal, has been converted to run on natural gas, showing the degree of compliance with the national 2050 net-zero plan.

The UAE has taken major steps to manage demand as well.

“The UAE has shown leadership in phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, having been the first country in Mena to do so back in 2015,” says Cornelius Matthes, CEO of Dubai-based Dii Desert Energy.

“It has an unparalleled track record in building some of the largest solar PV plants in the world at record low prices,” he adds.

Rounding out the country’s clean energy milestones is the completion of three units of the Barakah nuclear power plant, contributing 4,200MW of carbon emission-free electricity to the grid.

The UAE’s first utility-scale 100MW wind power projects, spread across four locations in Abu Dhabi and the northern emirate of Fujairah, were also unveiled by Ewec and Masdar in early October.

Future projects

For utility developers, investors and contractors, the UAE presents a long-term source of future opportunities.

Abu Dhabi’s Ewec aims to procure 1,500MW of solar PV capacity annually over the next 10 years at least, based on its most recent capacity planning forecast.

In addition to increasing solar capacity and battery energy storage, Ewec will also require additional thermal capacity to address an expected 30 per cent increase in gross power peak demand, from 16.7GW in 2022 to 21.6GW in 2029.

This is due to the scheduled expiry between 2025 and 2029 of offtake contracts for four integrated water and power plants with a combined power generation capacity of over 7,000MW.

While Ewec is considering a combination of either new-build, contract-extension or reconfiguration of existing assets to address the expiring capacity, it is understood to have decided to initiate the procurement of two gas-fired plants sooner rather than later.

In its latest capacity planning statement, Ewec said: “The otherwise consistent increase in peak and total energy demand from 2022 is impacted, on the one hand, by a reduction in exports to Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (Sewa) over 2022- 2023 due to the commissioning of their new power plant, while being offset, on the other, by the addition of new Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) Offshore demand from 2026.”

While Dubai has not published a similar long-term capacity procurement plan, Dewa has indicated plans for multiple solar PV projects, each with a capacity of 300MW, between 2025 and 2030. 

The emirate also launched the Dubai Economic Agenda 2033 (D33) in January. The plan aspires to generate up to AED32tn ($8.7tn) over the next 10 years and double the size of Dubai’s economy, which will inevitably drive gross power peak demand over the next decade.

This creates an opportunity mainly for renewable energy developers and contractors, given that the emirate does not plan to procure additional thermal power plants in the future.

While an initial plan to build a 500MW solar power plant in the northern emirates has been scuppered, small to medium captive or distributed solar facilities present opportunities in those regions.

Sharjah National Oil Company (SNOC) and Emerge, a joint venture of France’s EDF and Masdar, have agreed to develop a 60MW solar PV project at SNOC’s Sajaa gas complex.

The plant will supply power to SNOC’s operations and be connected to the main power grid. Under the agreement, any excess solar power generated from the plant will be taken by the state utility, Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (Sewa),  which will provide the required power for SNOC operations at night.

Photo: Noor Abu Dhabi
Jennifer Aguinaldo
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