Inter Press Service » TerraViva Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2013 News and Views from the Global South Wed, 26 Apr 2017 20:28:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Peering into the Energy Crystal Ball Thu, 17 Jan 2013 17:49:00 +0000 A. D. McKenzie The Zafarana wind farm in Egypt. Credit: IPS

The Zafarana wind farm in Egypt. Credit: IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
ABU DHABI, Jan 17 2013 (IPS)

Trying to predict the future of the energy sector is like trying to predict the weather in London in an era of global warming. But delegates had a go at it during the three-day World Future Energy Summit that ended in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17.

They foresee new world leaders in the energy sector, the development of innovative forms of storing renewable power, and the creation of super grids to transport this energy, among the many possibilities. But all this will be accompanied by a host of “enormous” challenges, in the words of one expert.

“We never recognise a game changer until it has actually changed the game,” said Morten Mauritzen, president of ExxonMobil Affiliates in Abu Dhabi. He envisages a day when the United States may become a “net exporter” of energy because of the controversial fracking technology to extract shale gas.

As a representative of the world’s biggest oil and gas company by capitalisation, Mauritzen believes there is a future role for such corporations despite their checkered reputation. He stressed that an “integrated set of solutions” would be necessary to meet the needs of the world’s expanding population, forecast to reach nine billion by 2050, and he sees fossil fuels as being an inevitable part of the energy mix.

But many other delegates see various possibilities, especially as an increasing number of countries turn to renewable energy.

“We don’t need to wait for any breakthrough technology, we can start now,” said Bjorn Haugland, executive vice president and chief technology and sustainability officer for the Norwegian risk-management foundation Det Norske Veritas (DNV).

Over the past three years, the company has boosted its climate change services, and on Friday Haughland announced the creation of a new research unit in Holland that will focus on “smart grids” and “super grids”.

For the DNV executive, battery technology and super grids for energy are key to the successful development of the renewables field.

“Storage is about efficiency,” Haughland told IPS. “The demand for energy is going up and up, and so in order to be efficient, we should have the ability to store energy when we have enough of it, and to use it when we want.”

But storage technology lags behind other areas of the “green” sector, and batteries developed to store renewable energy are still way too expensive to be competitve, he said. Transportation of batteries is also a concern for environmentalists, and that’s where the grids come in.

Super grids will be used to transport high amounts of energy over long distances, and this could revolutionise the green sector as solar energy produced in one region can be sent to another, Haughland said.

“These will be essential for renewable energy over the next 20 years,” Haughland said. “We see super grids already developing in India, China and some places in Europe.”

Another scenario is the production of electricity on site where it’s needed, with the result that big traditional power plants may one day become a thing of the past. Localised production of electricity through the use of solar panels, for example, is already happening around the world and several participants at the summit predicted that it will become much more common.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is the move from a central utility business model, where utilities have large power plants and they’re feeding power into the grid, to smaller generating sources at the point of consumption,” said Scott Burger, a solar markets analyst at U.S.-based GTM Research.

“We’re already starting to see that in areas of the world like Germany and Japan where there is a high penetration of photovoltaic systems on houses and commercial buildings,” he told IPS. “So there’s going to be a need for traditional utility business models to adapt to that.”

Countries and utility companies are waking up to this prospect and trying to diversify, Buger added, but national policies differ largely around the globe. Some governments still seem reluctant to invest in new technology, while others are making a loud and clear commitment to the sector.

Abu Dhabi, for instance, aims to generate seven percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020, according to Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the chief executive officer of the emirate’s renewable energy company Masdar.

In fact, many of the predictions by delegates at the energy summit are already a reality at the company’s multi-billion-dollar project known as Masdar City – a showcase for “green” energy that is being built in stages and expected to be completed by 2025.

The first stage comprises a science and technology institute, with living quarters for students and several shops, all powered by solar energy that’s fed into the emirate’s electricity grid. Buildings are designed in a way to make the most of natural resources, including use of the wind to cool hot outdoor areas.

If, despite some delays and revisions, the project proves to be successful on a larger scale, it could represent a brave new world.

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Water Summit to Focus on Resolving Scarcities in Mideast Fri, 11 Jan 2013 22:57:40 +0000 Thalif Deen On a drought-hit farm in Syria. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Amidst a growing water crisis in the predominantly arid Middle East and North Africa (MENA), some of the world’s most influential water experts will meet Jan. 15-17 at the International Water Summit (IWS) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to look for sustainable solutions.

The World Bank has already warned that MENA is the world’s “most water-scarce region, home to 6.3 percent of the world’s population but with just 1.4 percent of renewable fresh water.”

The six countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE – are expected to spend a staggering 725 billion dollars over the next two decades on new water projects, desalination plants, infrastructure-building and high-tech innovations.

Asked to assess the water problems in the region, Dr. Anders Jagerskog, associate professor and director of knowledge services at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS, “The water crisis in the MENA region is severe.”

The region, he pointed out, ran out of freshwater in order to achieve food self-sufficiency – mainly have the water needed for irrigation – already in the 1970s.

“But since then, the region has managed through increased import of ‘virtual water’,” he noted, meaning “the water embedded or used to produce the foodstuff imported to the region, for example”.

The problem is perhaps worst in Palestine, where there is both very limited availability as well as the conflict that is severely affecting the possibilities for the Palestinians to develop a well- functioning water management since they are not in control of the water resources, he added.

Besides countries like Jordan and Yemen, the demand for renewable fresh water has also continued to increase in the six GCC countries, according to water experts.

At the Abu Dhabi summit, Project Stream will offer a major opportunity for developers and investors to “connect and accelerate the building of sustainable water solutions”.

The summit, which is is part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week being hosted by Masdar, described as “a sustainable green energy city of the future”, will also bring together financiers and some of the world’s leading engineering, technology and service providers.

Peter McConnell, show director for IWS, says that GCC countries have been investing heavily in water sustainability over the last few years.

“And Project Stream will in essence become a networking platform that will connect solution providers from around the world to project developers from the region,” he added.

These projects, McConnell, said range from multi-billion-dollar government infrastructure ventures to high-tech innovations in areas such as low-energy desalination, water leakage prevention and water efficiency.

“These will contribute in a significant way to address the worldwide challenges surrounding clear water supply,” he added.

Asked if desalination was an answer, SIWI’s Dr. Jagerskog told IPS that part of the solution lies in increased desalination, but desalinated water is only an economically viable solution for industrial and domestic uses while it is not economically efficient for irrigation.

While cost varies – and is decreasing somewhat – the price of 1,000 litres of water to be desalinated is between 0.8 and one dollar.

While a kilo of cereal requires about 1,000 litres of water, it is evident that only the cost of water to produce one kilo of cereal is close to a dollar.

“So, the future lies in a combination of things – desalination of water for cosmetic and industrial purposes, increased water use efficiency, increased re-use of treated waste water for irrigation, as well as continued reliance on imported ‘virtual water’,” Dr. Jagerskog said.

The industry think-tank Global Water Intelligence (GWI), which is collaborating with Project Stream in Abu Dhabi, has reported major planned investments by Gulf countries, amounting as much as 725 billion dollars over the next two decades.

Between 2013 and 2017, Qatar is planning to invest some 1.1 billion dollars in desalination capacity through independent water and power projects (IWPPs).

Kuwait has a combined municipal water/wastewater capital expenditure budget of 4.4 billion dollars from 2013 to 2016, while the UAE’s budget reaches 13.0 billion dollars.

Saudi Arabia is expected to spend about 53.9 billion dollars over the next two decades to build, operate and maintain water projects to meet the growing demand in the Kingdom, according to GWI estimates.

Meanwhile, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that water shortages cause social hardships and impede development.

“They create tensions in conflict-prone regions. Too often, where we need water we find guns. There is still enough water for all of us – but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly,” he says.

And according to the United Nations, some 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity.

By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.

With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa.

In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region, according to the United Nations.

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U.N. Aims at Sustainable Energy for All by 2024 Thu, 10 Jan 2013 19:26:43 +0000 Thalif Deen A digital rendering of algae-ethanol production pools planned by Mexico. Credit: IPS

A digital rendering of algae-ethanol production pools planned by Mexico. Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen

When the General Assembly wound down its 67th session in late December, it underscored the key role for energy in the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda by declaring 2014-2024 the “Decade of Sustainable Energy for All”.

The declaration, adopted unanimously by the U.N.’s 193 member states, was followed by grim statistics: over 1.3 billion people worldwide are still without electricity, and more than 2.6 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating.

The General Assembly also expressed concern that “even when energy services are available, millions of poor people are unable to pay for them.”

Even before the resolution was adopted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned, “There can be no sustainable development without sustainable energy.”

There is growing recognition among world leaders that access to energy is crucial for achieving the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including a drastic reduction in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, he added.

The importance of energy – including bio-energy, geothermal energy, hydropower and ocean, solar and wind energy – for sustainable development will be one of the key issues at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) next week.

The summit will be part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Jan. 13-17, which will run parallel to the International Water Summit promoting water sustainability in the world’s arid regions.

Asked about the current energy situation, Uchita de Zoysa, executive director of the Centre for Environment and Development, told IPS that energy in the modern era is a gateway for well-being and prosperity and can no longer be a luxury for a large part of humanity.

“Energy necessarily should be pursued as a human right,” he argued.

In a world where inequitable opportunities for development are partly based on energy, the failing global negotiations on addressing climate change need to fundamentally address sustainable consumption and production opportunities for all, De Zoysa said.

“No negotiations can succeed by marginalising a part of humanity from their right to well-being and prosperity. Each community and individual needs to be provided an equitable opportunity to progress and prosper in life,” said De Zoysa, who is also chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions and facilitator of the People’s Sustainability Treaties.

Kaisa Kosonen, climate policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS more than 84 percent of the energy poor live in rural areas. Therefore the solutions for sustainable energy access lie primarily in decentralised energy, such as wind, solar, biogas, and micro-hydro, which make economic sense too, she said.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy technologies are now the most economic solution for off-grid electrification and grid extension in most areas, as well as for centralised grid supply in locations with good resources.

In addition, said Kosonen, they protect users from price hikes associated with fossil fuels.

She said the role of the United Nations will be to keep the partners focused on the holistic needs of the poor, rather than on the needs of big utilities or other industries. This means, for example, that the energy can’t be just “available”, or success measured only in kilowatt hours produced.

“Energy needs to be affordable too, and reach the people in need,” she said.

Energy solutions must support local societal and environmental goals and not worsen water scarcity, pollution levels or other problems. The hidden costs of these and other impacts must be considered when making plans and decisions, she added.

De Soysa said that “energy for all” should not become another obstacle to climate sustainability. It should become a sustainable development goal in the post-2015 U.N. agenda.

History has shown that carbon-based polluting energy sources have been a major obstacle to sustainable development and pose a clear threat to human existence on earth through aggravated climate change, said De Soyza, author of several books, including “It Has to be CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY”.

Therefore, the responsibility of leadership from local to global is to provide sustainable energy for all, he added.

Sustainable energy for all could become a realistic sustainable development goal, he pointed out, “only if our high energy dependent consumption and production patterns are radically reformed.”

For sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods to emerge popularly on earth, the carbon-based “brown economic model” should be eradicated, De Zoysa stressed.

Kosonen told IPS it is important to keep in mind that energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, such as wind and solar, save water resources for other uses. This is due to their low to no water requirements, compared to the water-hungry lifecycles of coal and nuclear power plants, in particular.

Asked about the role of the United Nations, she said the world body must ensure that the solutions promoted are in line with other development goals. Energy needs and solutions must be assessed as a whole, instead of focusing only on electricity, she added.

“And the United Nations will have to continue to play a role in connecting different players, aligning the efforts of existing institutions towards common goals, helping to mobilise financial resources and technology transfers, and to ensure accountability and transparency around pledges made,” she said.

Asked if the U.N.’s “Decade of Sustainable Energy For All” will make a difference, Kosonen said: “This remains to be seen, but we surely hope so, because the goal of providing sustainable energy for all couldn’t be more topical and important.

“We are encouraged by the declaration’s strong emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency – the truly sustainable solutions for our energy challenges.”

Predictable funding as well as policy and technical support is needed from wealthy countries, while political leadership is needed from developing countries to ensure the integration and priorisation of sustainable energy access in the core development planning and policy frameworks.

“What’s needed from all sides is long-term commitment,” she said.

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