The Greening of the Gulf

The growing number of green’ projects in the Persian Gulf represent lucrative business opportunities for investors and renewable energy developers around the world. But according to the panel of experts at the GLOBE 2008 special session Greening the Gulf, Canada has been slow to take advantage of the opportunities. 

The growing abundance of green technology in the Middle East has been made possible as a result of the Persian Gulf’s vast oil wealth and record high world oil prices.

The panel discussion centred on bringing green technologies to the Middle East, the initiatives now underway in the region and the potential for the investment of foreign green technologies, particularly from Canada.

"Today we have over 100 alternative energy projects underway in the Gulf region with over $160-billion in value," said panel member Dan Danesh, General Manager of the S.S. Lootah Group. The projects are concentrated in the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia.

The movement underway to diversify the Middle East’s energy supply is increasing in intensity. Challenges such as rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and shrinking water supplies have turned the region into a growth center for environmental technologies and services.

Alternative energy and carbon capture projects are in the works, including solar developments in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Indeed the entire Gulf region is exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with clean technology and climate change.

In January, 2008, Abu Dhabi unveiled the Masdar Initiative, a plan to invest upwards of $15 billion to establish an international clean technology research centre, the world’s first carbon neutral city, and projects focused on hydrogen, solar, wind power and hydrogen fuel cells.

The Masdar Research Centre itself will be a model of sustainable building design.  The building will have the lowest energy consumption per square foot in the city.  It will feature the largest photovoltaic system and the largest solar thermal driven cooling and dehumidification system and integrated wind turbines.  It will consume about 70% less water than a typical mixed-use building of its size.

Also in the works are plans for a $350 million, 100-megawatt solar plant using "concentrated solar power" (CSP) technology. The plant will eventually be increased to 500 MW to supply more power to the national electrical grid.

One of the most ambitious undertakings in Dubai is the Energy and Environment Park (ENPARK), a fully comprehensive eco-friendly community for both commercial and residential use, as a role model for Dubai’s commitment to sustainable development.

The project will be developed on an eight million square foot area and will offer a business environment to foster sustainable development and clean energy.  The commercial components will include green commercial office space, retail and boutique manufacturing facilities as well as showrooms for energy saving technologies. It will also house energy efficient residential units as well as green hotel and conference areas.

Dubai’s Island reclamation project may also be a model of restoration ecology, although many remain uncertain.  The project consists of building human made islands in the Persian Gulf from imported sand and concrete.  The result is hundreds of kilometres of new land.

Opponents of the project believe the project is ecologically destructive however proponents argue that it the project has created something from nothing and may allow for the development of coral reefs, providing habitat for marine life.

Other projects in the region include the Economic Cities Initiative launched by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). Economic Cities are comprehensive, fully integrated developments based on a "live, work and play" design concept. The Authority has launched a total of four integrated Economic Cities and two more are planned. 

"You can really see the activity in the Middle East in terms of greening and environmental stewardship," said Dr. John D. Wiebe, President & CEO, The GLOBE Foundation. "When I was there, not too long ago, I asked ‘why are you doing this?’ and the answer that came back from some of the leadership was ‘because we should and because we can.’"

"I think it’s a very important piece of the leadership of that region. They really do believe that they must become more sustainable [and] that this whole area of environmental stewardship is a very important one," added Wiebe.

While the panel focused on green initiatives originating in the Middle East, the invitation for international countries, particularly Canada, to be involved in the region’s projects was clearly stated.

"I’m going to use this opportunity for trying to convince Canadian companies, to come to the Gulf region, especially to Saudi Arabia, and start doing some business with us," said Dr. Ramzi Hejazi, Senior Environmental Consultant, of Aramco Saudi Arabia.

He discussed the fact Aramco would like to outsource environmental services as opportunities to the international business community, some of which included:

  • Recycling of waste oil for lubricants;

  • Oil drum restoration;

  • Environmental consulting; and

  • The creation of facilities to reuse spent items.

"My advice, and I give it sincerely, is that if you want a piece of that pie, you need to establish a presence in the country," Dr. Ramsi said. "Many other delegates from other countries are doing the same thing.  There’s a big pie there, so try to grab a piece of that pie. Do not hesitate in doing it."

The visiting panellists made it very clear that the business opportunities are unfolding rapidly in the Persian Gulf and that international investors are more than welcome to participate.

The World Bank has estimated the need for environmental services and products in the Arab world at $100 billion US over the next 10 years, said Ronald Portelli, managing director at Alturki Environmental in Saudi Arabia.

"So the potential in the Middle East for environmental investment and growth is enormous," Portelli said.

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