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Time to clean the power sector

The UAE is shifting its power generation mix towards cleaner fuels. Its energy minister urges other nations to follow suit

Nations across the globe must do more to promote and increase the share of low carbon fuels in their power generation mixes, the UAE energy minister, told the World Energy Conference yesterday.

"In the UAE we believe one of the pillars of society is clean energy. There is a role for us as government to enable this shift from being purely dependent on fossil fuels to allowing competition from newer forms of energy," energy minister Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei said. "We must all make a commitment to it. You need to look at 2050 and think: what is your plan? What energy mix are you aspiring to? We're trying in the UAE to manage that shift."

Lower oil prices have prompted some Gulf oil producers to shift their focus to alternative fuels.

Despite holding some of the largest resources of oil and natural gas in the world, the UAE is planning to fully diversify its energy mix.

Mazrouei has previously said the country plans to invest $35bn in clean energy by 2021, with the focus on nuclear and solar projects. He has suggested the country will increase the share of renewables to 30%, while reducing natural gas' share to 70%, compared with its near 100% share of power generation feedstock.

Rising economic and population growth over the past decade have also put pressure on the UAE's power sector capacity.

The country's electricity consumption is among the highest per capita in the world, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Demand for power is expected to rise by 50% by 2020, the organisation says, up from around 105bn kilowatthours (Kwh) in 2013.

The UAE generates most of its electricity using natural gas-fired generation.

It is also investing in renewable energy technologies and has committed to produce at least 7% of total power generation from renewable sources by 2020.

Mazrouei said the UAE had managed to reduce the cost of solar power generating capacity to less than 2.5c/Kwh.

"A few years ago this was unheard of. We have opened the door for solar in a big way," Mazrouei said.

"And we have seen a great advancement from the technology when we allow for competition. The next technology we need is storage. If we have that it (renewable energy) will be a reliable source of power, and a steady form of energy."

The UAE plans to build seven new power plants to come online by 2021 with a combined capacity of 9.5 gigawatts (GW), according to the EIA.

One of these includes a plan for a clean-coal facility in Dubai with a capacity of 1.2GW.

The first phase of the clean coal project should begin operating in 2020.

The UAE's Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 has set targets for 12% of power generating capacity to come from clean coal, 12% from nuclear, 5% from renewable energy and 71% from natural gas by 2030.

Planned nuclear energy construction projects are expected to add at least 5.6 GW of capacity, the EIA says. The first reactor is scheduled to come online in 2017, with the others completed by 2021.

Rainer Baake, the German government's State Secretary for energy and economics, said that creating a policy framework which promotes the right market conditions for renewable energy to flourish were essential for increasing the role of cleaner energy in the power sector globally.

"We've developed the technologies for wind and solar and now we've learnt to use them. It's not even a question of cost anymore it's a question of system integration," Baake said. "We have to create a new market design. Digitalisation will be extremely important as will be integration into the European single market."

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