A place where people pay 45 cents a gallon for gasoline seems like an unlikely spot to find proponents of alternative energy — especially when that place’s vast wealth comes from selling oil. Yet the Arabian Gulf countries, with their huge unbridled energy consumption, have a firm grasp on the fact that their oil is going to run out one day; They know that they, too, will need renewable energy sources one day in the not too distant future, and they’re making good use of their current wealth to see to it that they’re at the forefront of the next energy supply.
That’s a really good thing for them, because their people burn fossil-fuel generated energy like none other. Public transport is almost non-existent, and when it’s 130 degrees F. outside, it’s understandable that everyone lives in air conditioned housing and drives to air-conditioned shops in air-conditioned Mercedes Benz cars. They’re going to need alternative energy more than nearly anyone else on the planet, so they’re taking the steps now to procure it. The United Arab Emirates (UAE,) Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working together to be at the heart of solar power. Their abuntant sun is almost as seemingly limitless as their oil was, so it’s a good idea.
Billions have flowed from these most wealthy people into Green technologies. They’re funding research projects at universities all over the world and building research parkes there in the deserts of the Middle-East. These oil producers aren’t taking any chances. They’ve invited the world, from pure research to businessmen, to the second annual World Future Energy Summit. It’s a Who’s Who, and the world is attending. Tony Blair, Andris Piebalgs, the EU Energy Commissioner, leaders from other desert nations, and executives of hundreds of companies, large and small, will all be there. While other markets flounder, Going Green continues to be steady business. But the West may not always be in the forefront of alternative energy development. “The leadership in these breakthrough technologies is a title the U.S. can lose easily,” said Peter Barker-Homek, chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s national energy company. Citing advantages of low taxes, an educated and youthful population, abundant natural resources and a willingness to invest, he points out that the Gulf nations could easily take the lead, and that they’re planning to do so.
Mr. Awad of Masdar shares that they’re already involved in field-testing many solar panels, and adds “We know we can’t continue with this carbon footprint,” he said. “We have to change. This is why Abu Dhabi must develop new models — for the planet, of course, but also so as not to jeopardize Abu Dhabi.” The world is now consuming 80 million barrels of oil a day, a figure expected to rise sharply as the population increases.
Even oil producing nations can’t keep up with anywhere near that demand, and so they’re working feverishly to replace the supply with clean energy sources. Masdar, a model city designed to generate zero carbon emissions, is but one of the projects being funded with tens of billions of dollars in oil money being reaped now. Often these plans include working with the best and brightest on the planet, M.I.T., the Imperial College of London, Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Cambridge, Cornell, Imperial, La Sapienza, Oxford and Utrecht amongst them. Qatar invested £150 million, ($220 million) in a low-carbon technology fund within the UK — far more than the UK itself has afforded for the research.
In a place where the sun shines intensely literally every day of the year, this may make both dollars and sense, but it’s also showing nobility of intent that some may not have realized the Arab nations were capable of. The futuristic city of Masdar, for example, is expected to present a model for renewable resource cities all over the world. The new materials and technologies that will allow 50,000 inhabitants to live and make no carbon footprint will certainly be an inspiring example.
Masdar will be using a system of subterrainian public transport and no cars, use only 1/4 of the energy of most cities that size, and will generate all of that energy itself, from the sun. While the rest of the world drags their feet, worrying about cost-effectiveness of Green technologies, the Arab nations have jumped right in, and are providing the much needed impetus, the seed money to make 100% renewable energy sources a solid reality within the next decade. If this is what they’re doing with the wealth they’ve gained from selling oil the world wants, they may prove to be the Angels that the planet has needed all along. Meanwhile, it’s time for the West to jump in with both feet as well, in going Green.