HomeSmart Grid T&DEnergy StorageDisruptors in the Middle East energy sector

Disruptors in the Middle East energy sector

Electric vehicles, blockchain and smart cities were just some of the hot topics debated at this year’s World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi,
writes Kelvin Ross

Disruption in the energy sector was one of the hot topics at this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

The annual event, which includes the World Future Energy Summit and the Zayed Future Energy Prize, put the effects of e-mobility, geopolitics and digitalization in the spotlight and addressed how they are changing the way electricity is produced and consumed.

One of the highlights of the conference programme was Tony Seba, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author, who explained how electric vehicles will disrupt and change transportation across the world.

But first, Seba – who is an instructor in disruption and clean energy at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Programme – outlined exactly what the nature is of a ‘disruptor’.

“A disruption is when technologies converge and create a new market and helps to destroy or transform an existing industry,” said Seba.

As examples, he said highlighted what digital cameras did to film or how Uber created the ‘ride-hailing’ market.

“Disruption happens from the outside. Neither Google nor Apple had ever built a phone – now they own that market. And whoever is the incumbent is gone.”

And he added that it is usually “experts, insiders and mainstream analysts who dismiss disruptors”.

In the energy industry, he said this happens most often with solar: “Solar has grown by 40 per cent every year, yet mainstream forecasts [and he singled out those of the International Energy Agency] are linear, siloed and backwards-looking.”

To stress how electric vehicles have already become disruptors, Seba said: “Batterioes are going down in cost by 20 per cent a year. Dyson is investing à‚£2.5 billion to develop an EV by 2020. There are 2000 moving parts in a combustion engine – an EV has 18, so it’s twn-times cheaper to maintain.”

And he predicted that “by 2025 every new vehicle will be electric”.

Seba was followed on stage by Afshin Molavi, who presented dizzying facts and figures that highlighted the challenge facing those who plan and build the smart cities of today and the future.

Molavi, an expert in geopolitical risk, geo-economics and a fellow at John Hopkins, said that there are approximately 353,424 children born every day – with 85 per cent of them born outside Europe and the US.

He also stated that migration and births create 1.5 million new urban dwellers every week; by 2030 there will be 56 million people who will be classified as ‘middle class’ – and two-thirds of them will live in Asia; the median age in sub-Saharan Africa today is 19 – in Europe it is 42.

The population boom in Asia – and how it will create even more megacities – was a key strand of his talk. “The re-emergence of Asia is one of the great economic stories of our time. Asia will be two-thirds urban by 2050. We are living in the era of the Asian cities.”

Molavi also spotlighted the effect of smart devices: “We have never been so connected in history. Every second, three people in India experience the internet for the first time. Facebook has two billion users. If it was a country it would be the biggest in the world – Facebook-stan.”


Geopolitics has such a bearing on the energy industry that a new commission was launched at ADSW.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) unveiled the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, with the support of the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.

The commission will examine the immediate and long-term geopolitical implications of the global energy transformation, as driven by increase in renewables as part of efforts to tackle climate change.

It will be chaired by Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland. Grimsson said the geopolitical implications of energy transformation “is becoming one of the most debated issues in the global energy agenda. The Commission can make an important contribution to these global discussions, on the basis of solid evidence and analysis as well as a diverse range of perspectives.”.

The commission will be composed by 12 leaders and experts on international energy and global security issues, with particular emphasis given to ensuring diverse geographical and expert background representation.


Meanwhile, the World Future Energy Summit heard a how blockchain currency is being used by Saudi Arabian energy company ACWA Power.

ACWA is utilizing SolarCoin, a crypto-currency that is rewarded to generators of solar power. For every 1 MW of solar, the generator gets one SolarCoin. This means it can adopted by large utilities like ACWA or a homeowner with a few solar panels on their roof. The only conditions are that the beneficiary owns the solar installation and that it is connected to the grid.

The move makes ACWA the first utility-scale solar generator to adopt SolarCoin. The company’s 50 MW Bokpoort CSP project in South Africa and the 50 MW Karadzhalovo PV plant in Bulgaria are already generating SolarCoins.

Chief executive Paddy Padmanathan said: “We are always looking for ways to adopt new technologies to add value and reduce cost in all that we do. Blockchain technology in our view offers a yet untapped opportunity for the power generation sector.”

He added: “It’s early days, but we are very excited about SolarCoin and we are trying to persuade others to join the bandwagon. We have started to use it and started to spend it.

Other companies already using SolarCoin are Solar Lux, clean energy firm Dubai Carbon and environmental consultants 5 Capitals.

SolarCoin was set up in 2014 as a reward to solar power producers but more specifically as an incentive to others to get involved in solar generation and drive it to mass adoption.

There is a finite number of SolarCoins – 97.5 billion – and they are only available for 40 years, because this is the period that the company believes will be needed to achieve their target of worldwide utilization.

Also speaking at the World Future Energy Summit was SolarCoin founder Nick Gogerty. He said: “Awarding coins to solar energy producers such as ACWA Power provides an incentive to continue to invest in solar capacity. We hope to see further adoption of SolarCoin in the region, with the aim of building a strong community and spurring a global market for renewable energy investment.”

Thomas Chrometzka, director of Solar Lux, which helps energy companies adopt SolarCoin, said: “SolarCoin is a currency with a purpose. That’s why it is a currency with a soul. You end up with money that represents your values, not your passport.”

Google wins

An indication of how big technology giants are entering the energy sector was highlighted when Google won the Zayed Future Energy Prize for Best Corporation.

The award is a public endorsement of the giant corporation’s work in renewables and clean energy – the company has been carbon neutral since 2007.

Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, Dr Nawal Al Hosany said the prize “acts as a catalyst for the advancement of renewable energy solutions by rewarding and recognising those who have implemented sustainable policies and practices”.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize was established by the UAE leadership in 2008 in honour of the environmental, social, and economic sustainability advocated by the nation’s founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Recent previous winners of the Large Corporation Award include ABB and GE.

Other winners at this year’s event included a Lifetime Achievement Award for Shuji Nakamura, who invented the LED light, and French company Sunna Design won the SME award for its work on smart solar street lights for harsh climates.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize this year has an increased focus on the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Delivering the address ahead of the prise-giving, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and chairman of clean energy company Masdar, said: “As scientific breakthroughs become every-day reality, we must take full advantage of the energy, ingenuity and optimism of our young people.

“Investing in youth is always imperative, but this generation, the first to be digitally native, is very special. They are uniquely equipped to adapt to the rapid advances of this era. This year’s ADSW is therefore intentionally focused on ‘generation next’. Their outlook is not defined by the limits of the past, but liberated by the possibilities of the future.”

He said that today “we have the means and the technology to achieve even greater progress on the three fundamental pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.”

“First and foremost, artificial intelligence is beginning to rival human intelligence, increasing productivity and stimulating smart growth. Ultra-high-speed internet is collapsing distances, linking businesses, connecting families and building virtual communities. And big predictive data is beginning to transform the energy sector, enhancing efficiency and optimizing resource use.”

Masdar used ADSW to announceme an offshore wind energy storage pact with Norwegian multinational Statoil.

Wind storage

The deal will see both firms analyse data from Batwind, an integrated storage system designed for Hywind Scotland, the first commercial-scale floating windfarm that was inaugurated by Masdar and Staoil off Scotland last October.

The plan is to explore the battery’s potential for further applications and business opportunities.

Masdar said that being able to study Batwind’s performance under a range of conditions will generate a vast amount of operational data, “which will in turn enable a thorough exploration of the potential integration of battery storage solutions with wind and solar power generation systems, and offer insight into the potential application of this technology in other locations”.

Bader Al Lamki, Masdar’s clean energy executive director, said the Batwind project “has the potential to deliver far-reaching benefits in the development of renewables as a baseload power source”.

The battery will be located at the onshore substation of Hywind Scotland – which is off the coast of Aberdeenshire – and connected to the offshore wind farm at the grid entry point.

Sebastian Bringsvàƒ¦rd, Head of Hywind Development in New Energy Solutions, said: “With more renewables coming into production, it will be crucial to handle storage to ensure predictable energy supply in periods without wind or sun. Batwind has the potential to add value by mitigating periods without wind – and by that making wind a more reliable energy producer year around. This could expand the use and market for wind and renewables in the future.”

Hywind was inaugurated in October, with Masdar holding a 25 per cent stake and Statoil owning the remaining 75 per cent. Operating with an installed capacity of 30 MW, Masdar said that Hywind is already powering around 6600 homes.

In an interview with PEi, Al Lamki told me that Masdar “has an appetite for offshore wind” following its previous collaboration with Statoil on the recently-launched Dudgeon Wind Farm in the UK, and its involvement in other British windpower project London Array.

“We mean business,” said Al Lamki. “We have a progressive confidence in offshore wind and we are ready to seize the opportunities.”

In an earlier interview at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), picked energy storage and floating offshore wind as the two biggest game-changers that would boost the renewables industry.