By Gavin Gibbon
Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi is CEO of Abu Dhabi-based energy giant Masdar, which is leading the way in trying to head off a possible climate change catastrophe, but he tells Arabian Business that he's just getting started
When it comes to saving the planet, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi has made it his business to play a part.
As CEO of Abu Dhabi-based Masdar, Al Ramahi oversees a presence in 25 countries with an operational capacity of 5 gigawatts (GW). The renewable energy giant is taking centre stage in the country’s commitment to the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 to produce 44 percent clean energy, 38 percent gas, 12 percent clean coal and 6 percent nuclear to meet the growing energy demand and ensure a sustainable growth for the country’s economy.
“Climate change is serious. The environment is a serious matter and I am blessed to work in a place where you can actually do business, but at the same time, contribute to the world agenda,” he tells Arabian Business. “It’s an international, serious issue and we are a positive contributor to this issue, which is fantastic.”
Climate change is the defining issue of a generation indeed, from shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding. Outgoing head of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who is set to take on the role of UN special envoy for climate action and finance, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at the end of last month that the policies of companies were “consistent with degree warming of something in the order of 3.7 degrees to 3.8 degrees”, Celsius – markedly above the 1.5 degrees people say they want and governments are demanding.
A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global CO2 emissions must drop 45 percent by 2030 – and reach net zero by 2050 – to cap the temperature rise at 1.5°C.
It has been a busy time for Al Ramahi and Masdar. As hosts of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week earlier last month, the company was at the forefront of major announcements.
This included launching a sustainable real estate investment trust (REIT), with an initial valuation between $258m and $272m.
Joint ventures were announced with EDF Group, dedicated to energy efficiency and distributed solar power generation projects; Egypt’s Infinity Energy, to develop renewable energy projects in Egypt and Africa; and Spain’s Cepsa, with a focus on developing wind power and solar photovoltaic projects with an initial target of 500 to 600 megawatts (MW) in Spain and Portugal.
Masdar also made its first investment in Australia after acquiring a 40 percent stake in the country’s second utility-scale waste-to-energy (WTE) facility.
Despite the great work being done by Masdar, Al Ramahi concedes that more could and should be done, by them and everyone.
“Globally everybody is trying a lot and yes there has been a lot of positive changes, but are we doing enough? Definitely I would say we should do even more.
“Decarbonisation, we are still starting. Circular economy is essential. Carbon emissions are still high. We need to deploy more renewable energy, we need to shut down coal plants,” he says.
“In today’s world, renewable energy competes in price. It’s not like a luxury that you would like to own, now it is actually competing with fossil fuels and conventional power generation. We need to take that into consideration.”
What was considered a huge step forward came in 2016 with the signing of the Paris Agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance – holding countries to reducing carbon emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. As of November 2019, 195 UNFCCC members had signed the agreements and 187 have become party to it.
However, it was dealt a huge blow when US President Donald Trump indicated in November that he was officially withdrawing his country from the agreement as part of his America First campaign.
America is due to leave in November 2020, while Trump, who once described climate change as a “hoax”, has continued to support greater use of declining fossil fuels such as coal.
But Al Ramahi says, in this instance, actions are speaking louder than words.
“There are realities on the ground and there is political rhetoric that has been spoken with the current government,” he says.
“We are investors in renewable energy. The reality is the United States is by far one of the largest, other than China, renewable energy markets in the world. This is a fact we cannot ignore.
“Also a fact we cannot ignore, during the past couple of years they have deployed more renewable energy than even the previous years. Regardless of what you hear and what is said at the political level, the realities on the ground are different.”
Al Ramahi reveals that states, such as California, have committed to carbon neutrality, while he says Texas is the largest renewable deployer in the USA.
“Maybe the US pulled out from the Paris Agreement, but the reality is the US is still totally engaged and, in my view, fully committed to renewable energy. That’s my view about the US,” he says.
Indeed, America is one of the areas Al Ramahi and Masdar are targeting for growth, with plans to open an office, as well as exploring opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
And Al Ramahi insists the UK is still a prime target for investment, despite the ongoing issues surrounding the country’s exit from the European Union (EU).
In Britain, Masdar is a partner in three offshore wind farms, with a combined generating capacity of more than 1GW: London Array, the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm, and Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating wind farm.
While in September last year, Masdar and the UK government invested £70m ($86.3m) to bolster Britain’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“Globally everybody is trying a lot and yes there has been a lot of positive changes, but are we doing enough? Definitely I would say we should do even more”
Al Ramahi says: “We are a major investor in the United Kingdom and we will continue to be a major investor there.”
This is despite the turmoil caused by Brexit. Since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, it has taken two prime ministers, 1,274 days, three deadline extensions and two general elections before an exit deal was considered acceptable by the UK Parliament.
However, regardless of what happens, Al Ramahi has reiterated his commitment to the country, through a relationship that stretches back more than a decade.
“We are a long-term investor, so this cyclicality, or the impact of potentially Brexit or maybe other related activities, does not impact us, we don’t think short-term,” he says.
Of course, Masdar is continuing to invest closer to home and Al Ramahi continues to be proud of the Masdar City development on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
Launched in 2006, the city boasts 1,500 residents and 700 companies, with plans to increase residential numbers to more than 5,000 within the next few years.
“The environment is a serious matter and I am blessed to work in a place where you can actually do business, but at the same time, contribute to the world agenda”
2019 saw the opening of the Majid Al Futtaim My City mall, while Masdar City is also home to the Honeywell Innovation and Technology Centre and Hamad Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence.
Al Ramahi says: “From day one Masdar City was a unique and special, sustainable urban development in the world. That’s why Masdar City has been recognised across the world as a first of its kind. When people were still thinking about carbon neutrality and carbon zero, electric mobility, Masdar City actually has done that.
“Theoretically and physically, Masdar has contributed to the launch and development of a new era of urban communities and urban developments, by focussing on energy efficiency, focussing on carbon neutrality, focussing on renewable resources, on the circular economy and waste collection and waste management, all within the community.
“Talking about urban mobility, electric scooters, electric cars, autonomous mobility, all of that is an essential ingredient for any urban community and Masdar City has been spearheading these activities over the past 12 years and will continue to do so, producing new solutions and producing new technologies.”
One of the activities spearheaded by Masdar is the successful eco-bus, the first fully electric passenger bus in the region, which was unveiled at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in 2018 and funded by Masdar as a pilot project.
“The US is by far one of the largest, other than China, renewable energy markets in the world. This is a fact we cannot ignore”
It was launched in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s department of Transport (DoT), Abu Dhabi-based manufacturer Hafilat, and electric motors maker Siemens Middle East.
Al Ramahi says: “We’ve collected so much data that the eco-bus is not a pilot, it is credited and it is certified. We can build more electric buses in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, that can compete with conventional business, in terms of cost and in terms of productivity, which is fantastic for the UAE.”
The bus has been designed to withstand the heat and humidity of the UAE climate. It has a lightweight aluminium body and a unique water-cooling system to optimise battery life and efficiency, even when the outdoor temperature is at its highest. The vehicle also has a highly energy-efficient on-board air conditioning system.
Al Ramahi stresses that any future buses would not be built by Masdar, but by Hafilat, using the successful model as a blueprint.
“Masdar does not build buses and we are not interested in building buses, but what we are interested in, we are interested in demonstrating that we can, if we have the right ingredients, develop something in-house, in the UAE, made in the UAE that is effective, efficient and environmentally friendly and cost effective,” he says.
Asked if the project could be taken to a national and international audience, he adds: “I could see that and I wish that this will happen and I hope it will happen. This is something we take close to our hearts.”For all the latest Energy news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.