Renewable Energy Prospects
SDG 7 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. Access to electricity in the poorest countries has begun to accelerate, energy efficiency continues to improve, and the share of renewable energy in the global mix is increasing. Despite this progress, some 800 million people (13% of world population) remain without electricity, while especially access to clean cooking fuels requires dedicated attention in poor countries. Furthermore, if SDG 7 and related goals such as combatting climate change and its impacts (SDG 13) are to be met, much more focus is required regarding renewable energy, including transportation and heating.
Key targets and global progress
- Ensuring universal access to electricity and clean cooking solutions
The world has made promising progress towards ensuring universal access to sustainable energy over the last decade. The global electrification rate rose from 83% in 2010 to 89% in 2017, leading to the number of people without access to electricity falling from 1.2 billion globally in 2010 to 789 million in 2018. Still, unless current efforts are stepped up significantly, an estimated 620 million people would remain without access to electricity in 2030 – a number that could become even higher with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, 61% of the global population had access to clean cooking fuels and technologies (up from 57% in 2010) but close to 3 billion people still rely primarily on inefficient, polluting, and unhealthy cooking systems.
- Substantially increasing the share of renewable energy
Renewable energy solutions have been instrumental in the progress achieved so far, with more than 136 million people receiving basic electricity services via off-grid renewables by 2018. The renewable share of total final energy consumption has gone up slightly from 16.3% in 2010 to 17.3% in 2017, though much faster change is required to meet climate goals. Even though the absolute level of renewable energy consumption has grown by more than 18% since 2010, only since 2012 has the growth of renewables outpaced the growth of total energy consumption.
- Doubling progress on energy efficiency
Global primary energy intensity (ratio of energy used per unit of GDP) improved from 5.9 in 2010 to 5.1 in 2016: A rate of improvement of 2.3%, which is still short of the 2.7% annual improvement rate needed to fulfil the ambition specified in SDG 7 of doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.
- Enhancing international collaboration in support of clean and renewable energy
The ability of countries to invest in access to sustainable energy varies widely and the degree of international collaboration is reflected in the financial flows to developing countries. Total international public flows reached USD 21.4 billion in 2017 (double the 2010 level), yet only 12% of such financial flows reached the least developed countries, which could face the greatest challenges in achieving SDG targets especially amid the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, increased co-operation is crucial to expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all underdeveloped nations, particularly LDCs, SIDS, and land-locked developing countries.
Progress and initiatives in the UAE
According to IEA, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accounted for a final electricity consumption of 123 Terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2018, an over 660% increase compared to 1990. Most of the energy produced in the country is from natural gas and oil – the former, however, is increasingly being imported. Renewable energy has thus become economically attractive. Since 2010, rising natural gas prices in the UAE have combined with rapidly falling technology costs, e.g. for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, while wind power and waste-to-energy conversion have also become economic, making renewables a competitive option.
These recent developments have created financial incentives for the country to accelerate its renewable energy deployment. In the Middle East, the UAE has pioneered and invested in significant sustainable energy technologies. The country is increasingly considered a major global hub for renewable energy, with renewable and clean energy being one of the seven strategic economic sectors.
In 2017, the UAE Energy Strategy for 2050 was unveiled as the first unified energy strategy for the country and a joint effort of all energy-related authorities and executive councils in the UAE under the supervision of the federal government. It aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix to 50% (44% renewables, 6% nuclear), resulting in estimated savings of $190 billion by 2050. Implementation is supposed to happen in three phases, from accelerating the move to efficient energy consumption by ensuring stable sources of energy and diversifying energy sources, through finding new energy-efficient solutions for transportation, to focusing on R&D and innovation in the supply of sustainable energy.
Renewables and UAE global involvement
Demand for renewables is rapidly growing and expanding across regions even though the current growth pace is not enough to meet the respective SDG 7 target by 2030. Given the falling cost of wind and solar power, however, global renewable energy markets are now commercially viable and do no longer depend on generous subsidies. The UAE is investing in high-profile renewable energy projects using PV and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies that are among the largest in the world, such as the Shams 1 Solar Power Station, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, and Noor Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest solar power plant.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), headquartered in Abu Dhabi, and the International Solar Alliance (ISA) stand out as important global organisations that can help reduce remaining obstacles to growth, such as financial risk. IRENA is an inter-governmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. It promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bio-energy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.
Globally, progress in access to clean cooking fuels, most notably liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is slower than rural electrification in developing nations. The lack of access to the former is a far more challenging problem and requires substantial funding. In this area, the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative has emerged as a key platform for bringing together partners from different sectors. While expanding their own renewable energy deployment and use, the UAE and GCC countries can benefit considerably from participating in international-level collaboration processes, e.g. by continuing to support IRENA and ISA with a focus on financial instruments that lower the risk of renewable energy investment. Regarding energy access, new renewable energy technologies offer commercial opportunities. Equally, the lack of funding for clean cooking fuels offers an opportunity to expand the UAE’s traditional development cooperation, drawing on experience with energy access projects.
Case Study: Masdar
The UAE is home to ambitious projects such as Masdar, a regional leader and international pioneer in renewable energy and sustainable urban development, which develops clean energy, sustainable real estate projects. Owned by the Abu Dhabi government’s Mubadala Investment Company, Masdar focuses on developing commercially viable renewable energy projects. Its core business is specifically aligned with SDG 7 as well as SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 13 (Climate Action).
Masdar’s Clean Energy division is a leading developer and operator of utility-scale, grid-tied projects, small-scale applications providing energy access to communities away from the electricity grid, and carbon abatement projects. Since its establishment in 2006, Masdar has invested over $4 billion in renewable energy projects with a combined value of $12 billion. Masdar’s renewable energy project portfolio comprises a combined electricity generating capacity of nearly 4 GW gross. Project locations, either fully developed or under development, include the UAE, Jordan, Mauritania, Egypt, Morocco, the UK, Serbia, and Spain.
Masdar is also one of the developers of Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s flagship sustainable urban community. Masdar City adopts commercially viable solutions aimed at significantly reducing energy and water demand. It hosts one of the largest clusters of low-carbon buildings in the world, developed in accordance with Estidama, Abu Dhabi’s urban sustainability framework. Buildings are shaped to enhance air flow and to provide shading to improve outdoor comfort. About one-third of the city’s power needs are generated on site, from a 10 MW solar array and rooftop panels with a combined capacity of 1 MW. The plant produces 17,500 MWh of electricity and displaces 7,350 tons of carbon emissions per year, while buildings within Masdar City are designed to reduce energy and water consumption by at least 40%.
Furthermore, Masdar manages the Zayed Sustainability Prize, the UAE’s pioneering global award in sustainability, whose winners have contributed to offsetting 1.3 billion tons of carbon emissions, saving 6.2 billion litres of water, and extending clean water access to 8.5 million people between 2008 and 2019.
The latest figures regarding the global progress on SDG 7 can be found in a joint report by the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, IRENA, the United Nations Statistics Division and the WHO: Tracking SDG 7, The Energy Progress Report 2020 (click the image below to download)
Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.
Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.
Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.
Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.