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Fri 25 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Driving environmental change in the fast lane

Driving a car that emits drinkable water is no longer a dream. Eng Yahya Lootah, vice-chairman of S S Lootah Group, explains how new energy technologies are moving into the building services sector in the Middle East.

|~|3p16200-body.gif|~|Forecasts suggest that by 2050 renewable energy sources will cater for nearly 50% of the UAE’s total energy requirements, with solar power leading the way.|~|The information and communications technology (ICT) revolution has changed the way we live and work. It has enabled globalisation by providing swift economic channels, tools, gadgets and processes that made a significant impact on the bottom line of businesses.

Similarly, new energy technologies (NET) will dramatically alter our reliance on power generated from traditional energy sources and fossil fuels. It could reduce or even eliminate the need for gasoline to run our vehicles; the possibilities are simply infinite.

Unlike the ICT industry, where there was no desperation or compulsion to achieve this or that, the energy industry is under pressure. As we are all aware, traditional energy sources are getting scarcer by the day.

NET is the internet of energy that brings with it new channels, tools, gadgets and processes. The days are not far off when each individual, family or community will be generating clean and renewable energy for its own consumption.

Historically, the underlying trend in the world’s energy use is one of decarbonisation, seen in the change from wood to coal then oil and, most recently, to natural gas. The transition has been to fuels containing more hydrogen and the ultimate destination of this transition is carbon-free energy.

This pattern alone suggests that a hydrogen economy seems likely at some stage in the future. That is why driving a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell is a life-changing experience. This is a finished, zero emissions, product that is ready to be used commercially today, but as with any new technology, the price remains a hurdle.

When I remember this, I think about the real price we are paying to fuel our cars today: cancerous emissions, climate change and war, to say the least. There is no more compelling reason to look into environmental safety and sustainability than the wellbeing of the current and future generations.

The UAE has been leading the way in making eco-smart decisions, taking the Gulf region beyond its clichéd image of “sitting on the majority of the world’s oil reserves and enjoying cheap fuel”.

The utilisation of natural gas as a clean and economic source of energy has been a great success in large-scale infrastructure projects. In Sharjah, the natural gas distribution network caters for over 80,000 residential and commercial users today. The use of compressed natural gas (CNG) to power vehicles in Abu Dhabi is only the beginning.

Forecasts suggest that by 2050, renewable energy sources will cater for nearly 50% of the UAE’s total energy requirements. Solar energy, the cleanest source in environmental terms, is likely to be the major energy source.

Embracing and adopting new energy technologies is the key to achieving sustainable economic progress in the 21st Century. Integrating clean and renewable energy into the mainstream energy market for widescale consumer use is the way forward. This will enable governments and businesses to meet the growing demands on energy in a way that improves quality of life today without sacrificing it for future generations.

By closely aligning business objectives to community and environmental welfare, a seamless transition from theory to establishing commercially viable practices is possible. Integrating sustainability as a critical tool and making clean energy a key component in project development across all businesses – from construction to transportation – has become a growing practice today.

Dynamic global partnerships among industry leaders, financial institutions, academia, regulatory bodies, policy makers, NGOs, technologists, educators, researchers and governments are being forged all over the world, bringing together people with enduring values and vision towards building a sustainable future in the world today.

The International Energy Group (IEG) was born in Dubai last year. It is a strategic international alliance of independent companies that are committed to accelerating the development and adoption of clean and renewable energy sources to supplement conventional energy sources worldwide.

Today the IEG represents a remarkable collaboration that is already resulting in tangible economic, social and environmental benefits to the UAE, the region and beyond.

If last year’s global investment of $30 billion in renewable energy sector – almost 25% of the total investment in the energy industry – and increasing private sector participation is any indication, then one can be sure that we are moving in the right direction.

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