The UAE is implementing groundbreaking renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. With a clear understanding about the impacts of climate change, the UAE is pursuing alternative means for producing the power needed to fuel its economy. The UAE’s Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative – the first of any country in the Middle East – aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement and with the UAE’s development vision to create new knowledge along with green industries, skills and jobs.
Although the UAE has the world’s seventh largest proven oil reserves and the seventh largest natural gas reserves, it has taken aggressive action to diversify the UAE energy mix and economy. In 2022, state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Taqa and holding company Mubadala entered a partnership to become shareholders of renewable energy company Masdar, to advance efforts to create a world-leading portfolio in clean energy. This strategic partnership will launch with over 23GW of current committed, and exclusive renewable energy capacity. It immediately positions Masdar as one of the largest clean energy companies globally, with ambition to grow to well over 50GW by 2030. Today, oil and gas exports account for only about 30 percent of the UAE’s economic activity.
At home, the UAE is rapidly expanding the use of clean energy. It operates three nuclear power reactors that provide energy to the country’s grid, and is home to three of the largest and lowest-cost solar plants in the world.
At the same time, the UAE is working to lower the carbon impact of hydrocarbon fuels. As the first country in the region to deploy industrial-scale carbon capture technology, the UAE is pragmatic about the present because even in the swiftest energy transition scenario, the world will still need oil and gas for the near future. As such, it is vital for oil and gas to be as low-carbon as possible and by virtue of geology and design, the UAE’s hydrocarbons are among the least carbon intensive in the world.
UAE 2050 Energy Goals
The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 targets an energy mix that combines renewable, nuclear and clean energy sources to meet the UAE’s economic requirements and environmental goals as follows:
- 44 percent clean energy
- 38 percent gas
- 12 percent clean coal
- 6 percent nuclear
In 2023, the UAE updated its National Energy Strategy to include several new goals, including:
- Create 50,000 new green jobs by 2030
- Triple renewable energy capacity to 14 GW by 2030
- Raise the percentage of clean energy in the total energy mix to 30% by 2031
- Become carbon-neutral by 2050
Renewable Energy and Sustainability Initiatives
The UAE has pioneered renewable energy in the heart of the hydrocarbon industry. Through over 15 years of R&D and policy work, solar is now available at 1.35 cents per kilowatt hour. The UAE has three of the world’s largest solar plants and is rapidly building more.
- The Noor Abu Dhabi solar park will reduce the UAE’s carbon footprint by 1 million metric tons per year, which is equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.
- In Dubai, the 4,000-acre Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest solar park in the Middle East, will generate enough solar energy to power 800,000 homes by 2030.
- Abu Dhabi committed more than $20 billion to renewable energy programs through Masdar, which has expanded the UAE’s renewable energy portfolio 400 percent in the last 10 years. Masdar focuses on the development and commercialization of technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management and monetization, water usage and desalination.
- In 2013, the Emirates Green Building Council created the Energy Efficiency Program to facilitate the reduction of the UAE’s carbon footprint through energy efficiency retrofits of existing inefficient buildings.
- Dubai is implementing a “Smart City” strategy, focusing on 1,000 government services and development in six main areas including transportation, infrastructure, communications, financial services, urban planning and electricity. The strategy lays out steps toward optimizing energy, smarter transport and recreational areas.
- Since 2011, the Dubai Government has enforced a set of “Green Building Regulations” for private sector construction in order to reduce energy and resource consumption as well as improve public health and general welfare. The code is mandatory for all new buildings.
- Estidama, which means “sustainability” in Arabic, is an initiative developed by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council to construct and operate buildings and communities in the emirate according to innovative green standards. It includes the Pearl Building Rating System, which is utilized to evaluate sustainable building development practices in Abu Dhabi.
- In Abu Dhabi, a waste-to-energy plant is under development. Once complete, it will use organic waste to generate enough energy to power 20,000 households.
Carbon Capture and Reduction
- There is a growing consensus that climate goals cannot be achieved without widespread adoption of multiple carbon capture technologies.
- In 2016, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) built the region’s first industrial scale carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) facility. It captures 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide with plans to expand six fold by 2030.
- An equally important mitigation tool will be nature-based carbon offsets. Along those lines, the UAE is significantly expanding the country’s mangroves, which have the triple benefit of preventing coastal erosion, encouraging biodiversity and capturing more carbon per hectare than rainforests. The UAE plans to plant 100 million new mangroves by 2030.
- The carbon intensity of the UAE’s crude-grade Murban is less than half the industry average, and ADNOC is committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its operations a further 25 percent over the next decade. ADNOC is the only national oil company to source 100 percent of its grid electricity from zero-carbon nuclear and solar power.
The development of a peaceful nuclear energy sector is a key component of the country’s net zero strategy, reflecting the UAE’s commitment to diversifying its energy mix and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
The UAE is the first country in the Middle East to operate zero-carbon nuclear power, which, along with renewable energy, will provide 14GW of clean power for the UAE by 2030. The development of a civilian nuclear energy sector is a key component of the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050, reflecting the UAE’s commitment to diversifying its energy mix and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
In December 2009, the UAE and US entered into a bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear energy cooperation that enhances international standards of nonproliferation, safety and security. Known as a “123 Agreement,” the pact establishes a required legal framework for commerce in nuclear energy technology between the two countries. The landmark agreement has been hailed as best practice by US officials across administrations, as well as by nonproliferation experts for its commitment to safety, security and operational transparency.
The UAE Government’s peaceful objectives in developing a nuclear energy policy are enshrined in a number of laws and accords, including the UAE Nuclear Law, signed in October 2009
The 123 Agreement was a key supporting factor in the development of the UAE’s Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation. In March 2021, a year after loading fuel for the first time and after completing a rigorous testing and inspections process, Unit 1 of the plant was declared commercially operational, delivering clean electricity to the UAE grid 24/7. In 2022, both Unit 2 and 3 were successfully connected to the national grid.
Once all four units of the plant are commercially operating, the UAE's Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will produce up to 25 percent of the country's electricity requirements while in parallel preventing the release of 21 million tons of carbon emissions each year (this is equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars off the roads annually).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) have conducted over 42 missions and reviews of the UAE Program to date, the Barakah plant and the operations team to ensure all activities are aligned with international best practices.
A number of US firms have been involved in the UAE nuclear energy program
- Westinghouse, headquartered in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, is part of a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation and has provided major components; instrumentation and control equipment; and design technical and engineering support services.
- Virginia-based Lightbridge Corporation has provided consulting services to the UAE on the design, development and management of the key organizations required to implement a nuclear energy program according to the highest international standards.
- Englewood, Colorado-based CH2M Hill won a 10-year contract to support the UAE's nuclear program in October 2008.
- Paul C. Rizzo Associates, a leading global engineering and consulting firm based in Pennsylvania, worked on site placement and engineering during the planning process.
The key entities implementing the UAE nuclear energy program are the:
- Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR): An independent federal agency charged with regulation and licensing of all nuclear energy activities in the UAE with public safety as its primary objective. It is headed by Christer Viktorsson, a former high-level official with the Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). FANR has conducted over 300 inspections of the Barakah plant and related facilities, as well as facilities in the US and Republic of Korea.
- Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC): A corporation, wholly Abu Dhabi-owned, charged with developing nuclear energy plants within the UAE. ENEC is responsible for the development of Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants, including the flagship Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi, and the development of human capacity and a local nuclear energy sector.
- Barakah One Company: A subsidiary formed through the 2016 Joint Venture partnership formed by ENEC and KEPCO. ENEC owns 82 percent and KEPCO owns 18 percent of Barakah One Company, which is responsible for managing the commercial and financial interests of the project.
- Nawah Energy Company: A subsidiary formed through the 2016 Joint Venture partnership formed by ENEC and KEPCO. ENEC owns 82 percent and KEPCO owns 18 percent of Nawah Energy Company, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the four units of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel that can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass and renewable power like solar and wind. It can be used in a wide range of applications, including in cars and homes. The UAE produces natural gas, which it can use to develop blue hydrogen. It also has ample sunshine, which can be harnessed to make green hydrogen.
- Launched at COP26 in November 2021, the Hydrogen Leadership Roadmap is a comprehensive national blueprint to support domestic, low-carbon industries, contribute to the country’s net zero ambition and establish the UAE as a competitive exporter of hydrogen.
- In January 2021, the UAE launched the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance, comprised of ADNOC, Mubadala and ADQ, which will advance low-carbon green and blue hydrogen in emerging international markets and help build a substantial green hydrogen economy in the UAE
- Dubai opened the first hydrogen filling station in the Middle East in October 2017.