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10 Things You Should Know About Abu Dhabi and Energy

world_future_energy_summit-2008Clean energy companies and climate wonks have convened this week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the second annual World Future Energy Summit. Think of it, as the New York Times put it recently, as a Davos gathering on renewable power. On Monday (day 1 of the summit), Sultan al-Jaber — CEO of the multibillion-dollar state-owned energy company, Masdarannounced a goal of sourcing 7 percent of the emirate’s energy from renewables by 2020, up from zilch today.

Needless to say, that would be a huge leap for the oil-rich gulf states, which you’d expect to be among the last regions to push for alternatives to fossil fuels. IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri had this to say about the target, as reported by Time: “It clearly shows that a country that has no immediate economic need to diversify its energy production is willing and able to do so.” This week’s summit offers a glimpse of the future energy economy. If you read nothing else about Abu Dhabi and the first few days of WFES, don’t miss these 10 things:

Triumph of Tech:
Masdar City and the WFES show the triumph of what Time calls techno-environmentalism over the crunchy nature-lovers’ version of the green movement.

Buckingham Royals in the Gulf: The Guardian reports that Prince Charles has actively encouraged Abu Dhabi’s push for renewables behind the scenes, even inviting Masdar executives to Buckingham Palace last year.

Energy Demand to Swell 50% by 2030: “Alternative Energy is a long-term theme,” the chief of alternative energy research for Credit Suisse told summit-goers. “Driven by rising energy costs and regulatory mandates in many countries, it is rapidly gaining share in the global energy supply.” Credit Suisse (s CS) anticipates worldwide energy demand will increase by 50 percent by 2030, and according to Greenbang, wind and solar could meet 25 percent of that demand.

Masdar Reconsiders London Array: Masdar officials said on Monday they’re reviewing the economic viability of its London Array offshore wind farm project (backstory on the project follows below). Then again, Masdar and partner E.ON are playing down doubts about the venture.

Suntech to Supply Panels for Masdar City: Masdar named China’s Suntech Power Holdings Sunday as the second company selected to provide 5 megawatts worth of solar panels for Abu Dhabi’s renewable-powered utopia, “Masdar City,” Greentech Media reports. First Solar revealed three days earlier that it had snagged the other 5-megawatt contract for the project’s first solar farm.

Solar Could Power 100% of Gulf in Daytime: Oil-rich Gulf Arab states remain slow in adopting abundant solar power, according to Stefan Muller, managing director of the Asia Pacific region for German solar and wind company Conergy. He told AFP at WFES, “These countries can produce all their day-time energy needs from solar power.”

Deep Pockets: In Silicon Valley, creating a thin-film solar startup requires a thorough business plan, years of testing and countless meetings to raise a few million dollars. But if you’re an oil-rich emirate like Abu Dhabi, you can buy outright virtually everything you need to make your own thin-film solar company. Last year the Masdar Initiative invested $2 billion to create Masdar PV, a thin-film solar manufacturing company. The first step? Purchase two turn-key solar module fabrication lines from Applied Materials (s amat) for $600 million. The grand scheme? Hit a production capacity of 1 gigawatt by 2014 and eventually make the country a net exporter of PV cells — ensuring deep pockets for a post-oil world.

Not Just About Desert Solar: The sunbaked desert offers a wealth of energy opportunities — but Abu Dhabi’s Masdra isn’t stopping there. The multibillion-dollar clean technology initiative last year took a 20 percent stake in the London Array, the world’s largest planned offshore wind farm. The agreement (with German energy giant E.ON (s EOAN)) came as part of longer-term joint venture, through which the two companies plan to collaborate on a variety of cleantech projects, including carbon credit-generating Joint Implementation (JI) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects.

The GE Factor: Connecticut-based conglomerate GE (s ge) has been working with Mubadala, the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi government, for more than four years. They jointly manage the Mubadala Infrastructure Partners fund, and GE is an anchor partner in the Masdar initiative. The company put $50 million into Masdar’s second cleantech fund last summer, with plans to establish Masdar City as a hub for clean energy technology — and go global. “When I think about water desalination, solar energy,” GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt told Cleantech Group, “there’s no shortage of investments that we can make.”

The R&D Problem: Abu Dhabi still lacks the research and development infrastructure and human talent to fuel its own cleantech industry. The government, with support from MIT, founded the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to fix that. But until the program bears fruit, top dollar will get paid out to western firms for precious cleantech IP.

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