As global energy leaders arrive in New York City to attend this week’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit, I had the lucky opportunity to catch up with Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company. Dr. Al-Hosany shared some updates on the progress at Masdar, insights about the Middle East’s growing renewable energy market and the role women are playing to address climate change.
1. What do you hope to achieve over the next three days in New York?
The Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit is an important platform to discuss the rapidly evolving energy sector. And as someone who works at a renewable energy company, it’s important to stay connected and gather intelligence about the dynamics driving the industry. This event also offers an opportunity to contribute and share our experiences in investing and building a new energy industry in Abu Dhabi.
The changing energy landscape presents fresh challenges and new players every day. There are also looming energy targets and fluctuating technology costs, which must be addressed. Being here enables us to join a global dialogue and hopefully shape the future.
I’m also in New York to meet with organizations, companies and individuals who might be candidates for the Zayed Future Energy Prize – an annual $4 million award, which recognizes excellence in the sustainability industry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance is actually a valued partner of the prize, and conducts the due diligence to ensure our yearly entries are qualified submissions.
2. How does the annual Zayed Future Energy Prize fit in with Abu Dhabi’s long-term objectives to promote renewable energy and sustainability?
The Zayed Future Energy Prize recognizes ‘game changers’ – the people and organizations operating at the cutting-edge of sustainability who are making a significant difference. And we like to think the prize is a catalyst of innovation. We fund and encourage people to push their research, companies to continue advancing technologies, and organizations to remain committed to addressing today’s pressing sustainability challenges.
While market forces are traditionally the key drivers for finding solutions to global challenges – such as energy access and climate change – additional catalysts like prizes can incentivize innovation when the market leaves a gap. This is particularly true today, as we have a weakened global economy, which could use an extra nudge.
3. The United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s biggest oil-producing nations. How much of a priority is renewable energy to the UAE and why?
The acceleration and adoption of renewable energy, along with the cultivation of clean technologies, are important to the UAE’s long-term economic, social, and environmental prosperity. Today, like many, the UAE is confronted with meeting a rapidly increasing energy demand – caused by strong economic growth – while at the same time addressing depleting potable water resources. And for a country that relies heavily on seawater desalination to produce potable water – an energy intensive process – we are turning to innovation and renewable energy as a solution. We have the social responsibility and an economic obligation to invest in technologies and projects that help us sustainably meet our future consumption demands. In addition, our hydrocarbon resources enable us to invest in renewable energy technologies, which offer a pathway to extend our energy leadership into future generations. The Middle East and North Africa hold nearly half of the world’s renewable energy potential, but without investment and action this potential is wasted energy.
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4. What progress is being made in the development of renewable energy in the Middle East?
The Middle East is rapidly investing and adopting renewable energy. And the UAE is a good example of the commitments being made to building a more sustainable future. Just last month, Masdar launched the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant in the remote desert of Abu Dhabi. The 100-megawatt solar facility generates enough electricity to power 20,000 homes and reduces 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It’s a major step in the diversification of our energy mix, and also proves the viability of solar energy in the region. Other countries are also seriously considering renewable energy. Today, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Morocco have all made commitments to adopt renewable energy.
5. On the subject of regional progress, do you think that women play enough of a role when it comes to addressing climate change?
The role of women in combatting climate change is a global issue. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change because they form the world’s majority of people living in poverty. And it’s people in poverty that shoulder the brunt and burden of climate change. The rural poor – especially women – depend on the environment to provide basic needs, such as water, food, shelter, and fuel. This situation is played out in rural-dominant countries around the world. In these countries, where a woman’s role is strictly defined as a provider and caretaker, women face increasing hardships due to climate change. Women must become part of the solution, and therefore must be encouraged, nurtured, and actively supported in the pursuit of sustainable solutions.
In fact, action is already underway. For example, the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice conducts education and advocacy initiatives to secure global justice for marginalized communities that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The UAE is also a good example of how the traditional role of women is changing. For example, at the Masdar Institute – a graduate-level, research university dedicated to advancing new energy technologies – more than 35% of the students are women. While we still have a long way to go, these are encouraging signs of how women are being incentivized to be part of the solution.