In a land where it rains (fair enough this year has produced some freakish conditions) an average of five days a year and the rest of the time the sun beats down harder than a string of combination blows from a heavyweight boxer you would expect someone to stand up and suggest some form of solar power.
Naturally, with an abundance of overpriced black gold swilling around the region alongside endless quantities of natural gas, no one has taken the plunge — until now. And, as with anything else here, they’ve done it big and done it in style.
The government of Abu Dhabi has announced it is planning to build a US$350m, 500 megawatt solar power plant by 2009, the first of its kind in the world’s biggest oil exporting region — ironically also the same year nuclear power is supposed to be heading Emirates-wards.
Not only will this be a fantastic addition to cutting the Gulf’s dependence on hydrocarbon power generation, it will also provide jobs, draw in and develop scientific talent and additional investment from home and abroad and, as Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of General Electric and our cover story this week, says “…the younger generation is both rapidly and sensibly transforming the massive wealth the region has into sustainable development.” In other words, the youthful powers that be are planning ahead, not just for the next five years, but for the next 50.
A section of young Arab leaders are emerging as some of the most forward thinking in the world, and if Immelt, a 22-year GE man through and through responsible for over US$163bn of revenues and US$500bn in assets can say that for a fact, people will stand up and listen.
As he adds in our exclusive interview, “the most significant opportunity and challenge is turning massive wealth created from one single commodity into sustainable wealth that exists regardless of the price of oil”.
25 years and a generation ago this was a rarity, today a best in class breed of leaders have, in Immelt’s own words, “connected the dots and can compete with anyone”. I for one am looking forward to seeing their ideas, technologies and bold plans come to fruition.
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