Like the global trade winds gathering momentum, the development of wind power seems to be increasing at a pace which is threatening to leave no part of the planet untouched. But in all the times I have visited the Gulf region, I can only recall having encountered strong winds (and I use that term loosely) on one occasion. It was therefore with great surprise that I read that the United Arab Emirates had inaugurated its first wind power plant.

It is certainly a pioneering move by the UAE but then the UAE and in particular the Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority (Adwea) are no strangers to being the pioneers of the Gulf region. Already leading the way in developing private power projects, the utility is now looking at developing alternative energy sources in the region.

A $2.5 million wind power plant sited at Sir Bani Yas island, off Abu Dhabi, was inaugurated at the end of October. At the project opening, attended by Shaikh Diyab Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of Adwea, and Shaikh Hamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Economic Department; Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, director general of the Office of the President said: “This is the first time we are producing energy through a wind power plant.”

For the UAE, this is the first step in following what is becoming a worldwide trend. Wind power has been the fastest growing source of renewable energy globally. Wind Force 12: A Blueprint to Achieve 12 per cent of the World’s Electricity from Wind Power by 2020 was signed this year by the European Wind Energy Association and Greenpeace. It states that by 2020, the global installed wind power generating capacity will reach 1200 GW, up from about 32 GW in 2002.

But while growth in wind power generation has been significant in countries like Germany, UK, Denmark and the US; there has been little to speak about in the Middle East. Last year, the Iranian government announced that the country’s wind power generating capacity would rise to 100 MW by the end of the third five-year plan (March 2005) and to 500 MW by the end of the fourth five-year plan (March 2010). This is up from 12 MW in 2003. In Egypt, current installed wind capacity is about 150 MW and there are plans to increase this to about 650 MW by 2010.

While the UAE project initially comes as a surprise, analysis of the area shows the prospects for further wind development are promising. The project was undertaken by Dornier Consulting and GTZ who will operate the plant for two years. Dr Herbert Neuland, managing director of Dornier Consulting Abu Dhabi commented: “Yes, the project came as a surprise to us. There is no experience of wind power in the Gulf. Because they have crude oil, wind was never a discussion. But this is a strategic decision taken by the government.”

Neuland continued: “The best conditions for wind power are moderate winds, between 20 and 40 km/h, throughout the year. This allows continuous operation. We carried out a survey which showed that the UAE has many suitable sites. The best sites are along the east coast where the Trade Winds blow in from the Asian continent to the Arabian peninsula.”

The UAE project is an experimental plant designed to generate 850 kW. If the plant is successful there are plans to create more plants on other islands. “Abu Dhabi will continue to introduce new and advanced technology. We are looking at building a similar plant on Delma island. But building more such plants will depend on the success of this pilot project,” Mansour said.

One of the main goals of the project is to prove that it can be feasible from an economic viewpoint throughout the year. Neuland explained: “The cost of power production can be cheaper than with conventional sources if you are looking at small areas of supply.” Dornier will also be looking at whether the turbine materials can withstand the climatic conditions i.e. extreme heat in the summer, high humidity in the winter. There is also a lot of salt water at the site which can cause corrosion.

While admirable, the development of alternative energy sources for a country so rich in oil and gas resources seems somewhat strange. But then stranger things have become the trend. In not too far away Saudi Arabia, in a stand against invasion of privacy, mobile phones with cameras fitted to them have been banned. Although a pioneering, yet understandable move, I’m not sure this will catch on in quite the same way.

Junior Isles, Publisher & Editorial Director