By Khaled Al Huraimel
Balancing demand for clean sources of energy with the UAE's economic ambitions is a major challenge
Over the past few years, the UAE has been in a constant state of transformation. Factors such as climate change and resource scarcity have catalysed the country to adopt a forward-looking approach.
These outside influences combined with a growing population, increased urbanisation and industrialisation, and the push for economic diversification has brought about a unique set of opportunities – and challenges.
One of these challenges has been the rising demand for energy to power the country’s economic ambitions, that has translated to a need to look beyond fossil fuels. Oil dependency has declined in the UAE from 90 percent in 1980, to below 60 percent by 2005. While this is a commendable fact, there is now an urgent need for clean sources of energy to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Similarly, the UAE also has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the world; the average person in the UAE generates around 2.7 kg of waste every day. As the number of people living in major cities grows, waste production is only expected to increase.
The UAE Vision 2021 has laid out a roadmap for addressing both these challenges – but with the deadline for the national agenda fast approaching, the time has come to assess how we can best stay on track with, and even possibly exceed, the targets set forth.
As an entity whose purpose is to provide the UAE with a blueprint for a sustainable quality of life, the issues of energy and waste have been important areas of concern for Bee’ah. Driven by our zero-waste agenda, and as part of our commitment to exploring new technologies, we partnered with Masdar three years ago and formed Emirates Waste to Energy Company to find a solution.
Waste-to-Energy is a growing trend, which has been especially successful in Europe, thanks to its adequacy in ensuring energy diversification and environmental protection, while using a commercially viable source. As the name suggests, the process involves generating power from processing waste to produce fuel.
Not only does such technology align with the UAE Vision 2021 Agenda of achieving 75 percent diversion of waste from landfill but also meeting 27 percent of our energy needs from clean sources – ticking two boxes at the same time.
The Sharjah Waste-to-Energy plant (pictured below), which is the first of its kind in the UAE, and built in collaboration between Bee’ah and Masdar, will be the first step in deploying and setting a standard for this source of power in the region. The facility will incinerate around 300,000 tonnes of waste per year, diverting it away from landfills and will generate 30MW of clean energy, powering over 28,000 homes, and expanding the UAE’s renewable energy portfolio.
Waste-to-energy also has additional advantages through mitigating environmental impact. The advanced technology used at the plant will be one of the first of its kind in the region , and as result, the plant will be displacing almost 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and saving 45 million m3 of natural gas, annually.
While Bee’ah has been successfully diverting 76 percent of recyclable waste away from Sharjah landfills, waste-to-energy offers an effective solution to eradicating up to 96 percent of non-recyclable waste – taking us one-step closer to making Sharjah a zero-waste city by 2021.
As the first of its kind in the region; the plant is an ambitious project. However, we strongly believe that with an integrated strategy in place, which starts from proper collection and segregation of waste streams; to processing, treatment and recovery of recyclable materials, and generating energy from non-recyclable waste using waste-to-energy facilities, we can bring the UAE that much closer to meeting its ambitious yet commendable targets.
* Khaled Al Huraimel is the Group CEO of Bee’ah