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Interview

Bader Al Lamki – Executive Director, Masdar Clean Energy, UAE

bader Al Lamki

Bader Al Lamki, Executive Director of Masdar Clean Energy, discusses Masdar’s impressive decade-long record of successful renewable project development, both in the UAE and internationally, including strategic priorities for further development, the economic viability of the renewable sector, and the synergies that can be exploited between the traditional and renewable energy sectors.

You have been with Masdar Clean Energy in various capacities since 2008 and have headed the division since 2012. Can you provide an overview of Masdar Clean Energy for our international audience?

We take great pride in being the first substantial clean energy initiative in this part of the world

Masdar Clean Energy is one of the business units within Masdar (also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), Abu Dhabi’s pioneering renewable energy initiative, and we spearhead renewable energy projects both within the UAE and internationally.

Over the course of my time at Masdar Clean Energy, I have witnessed first-hand our incredible rate of growth and I am extremely excited and proud to be part of this establishment, which is supporting the advancement of the UAE’s vision of sustainable energy diversification. This year, we are celebrating our tenth anniversary, and I am pleased to say that we have managed to translate an ambitious vision into tangible achievements, both domestically and globally. Within the UAE, we have flagship projects like the Shams-1 project in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, which powers over 20,000 home. Internationally, we are involved in some of the world’s largest clean energy initiatives, such as the London Array in the UK, the world’s largest offshore wind farm currently in operation..

Today, we have 1.7 gigawatts of clean energy projects either deployed or under development.

We take great pride in being the first substantial clean energy initiative in this part of the world – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Middle East and North Africa (MENA). With a solid decade of operational experience, we have accumulated significant expertise in all operational elements, from environmental studies and topography studies to financing and business development. This means that we have impressive credentials as a developer with a great track record of successful project delivery and management in many different countries. This is what makes us extremely credible to our clients: we can pitch them ideas or technology and then actually provide physical proof that these work.

Masdar Clean Energy has developed an impressive portfolio of projects over the past decade, both within the UAE and internationally. What are your strategic priorities in terms of defining your global presence?

Our ambition is to at least double our current output – about 1 gigawatt from wind and the rest from solar – over the next five years. Globally, there are many opportunities for growth. We want to increase our footprint in regions where we are already active while at the same time looking for opportunities to explore new markets. While the MENA region remains a central focus area for us, we would also like to expand our presence in Europe and perhaps open new projects in the Far East and on the Indian subcontinent.

Entry into new markets will depend on a variety of factors, including energy demand, location stability, GDP and economic growth potential, and resource availability. At the moment, we are chiefly focused on wind energy, both offshore and onshore, and solar energy, both photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). We are also increasingly looking at waste-to-energy technology.

However, the most important factor is the presence of a clear and robust energy regulatory framework or a plan to implement one, because this is essential to the legal risk management framework that facilitates and encourages private investment.

We work on two different types of projects: mainstream, utilities-scale, commercial projects; and government-government projects based on bilateral dialogue. For instance, we constructed a 6-megawatt (MW) wind farm in the Seychelles. While this is a small project in terms of scale, its impact has been significant as the wind farm provides a significant proportion of the essential energy needs of the Seychelles people, accounting for 11 percent of their total energy supply.

Strategic partnerships with public and private institutions of similar interests and priorities are crucial to sustained growth. We select our partners based on the specific needs of the project, taking into account many different considerations. Generally, within the Middle East, we tend to play a leading role with our partners in project management and implementation, while further from home, for instance in Europe, this is typically reversed, with our local partner taking a more central role and Masdar Clean Energy contributing to various aspects like financing and project negotiation. These relationships are always complementary.

The conventional view of renewables is that they are not economically viable. What explains the UAE’s successful investment in renewable energy?

One of the most crucial aspects of Masdar Clean Energy I want to emphasize is that it is a for-profit institution. We take on renewable projects with the clear intent of making a return on our investment. This reflects our fundamental belief that this sector is only sustainable if it is economically viable. This belief also drives continuous learning and development and maintains our competitive edge. For instance, we were delighted to be part of the winning consortium to complete the third, 800MW, phase of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.

The prevailing view of the renewables sector used to be that it was simply a way of mitigating climate change. But now it is increasingly seen as a robust industry in its own right, generating employment, driving R&D and technological advancement, and stimulating the economy. This fundamental change in what renewables represent has rejuvenated the industry; the industry has its own specific fundamentals and it is gaining momentum and moving forward at a tremendous pace.

As a result, renewables have become an indispensable element of the energy mix. Renewables can play a critical role in ensuring energy security by withstanding market volatilities: once the infrastructure and capacity is built, it generates a stable supply of energy that hedges against the inherent volatility and price fluctuations of the oil and gas market.

In their 2015 annual report, Bloomberg Energy noted a record level of investment of over USD320 billion in the renewable sector. It is no longer possible to overlook or ignore this sector. Increasing competition from mainstream utility companies entering the clean energy sector is an unmistakable signal that there is demand, money and value in the sector.

Many traditional oil and gas companies have entered the alternative energy sector, most notably Total and Statoil. Before joining Masdar Clean Energy, you had personal experience in the oil and gas industry as well, with Total and ADMA-OPCO. What synergies between the traditional and alternative energy sectors can be exploited? 

For me, it is very clear that there must be an energy mix for each country. Renewables are a part of the energy mix, not a replacement; there will be no switch from fossil fuels entirely to clean energy. Collaboration between various energy sectors is key. While the shift of investment from one form of energy to another will vary depending on circumstances, the world in general will continue to see the energy mix evolving to include all the different forms of energy.

There are definitely synergies to be capitalized on between different energy sectors. For instance, Masdar is working with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in a joint venture, Al Reyadah, to develop commercial-scale projects for carbon capture, usage and storage. The long-term vision of this project is to build a national network that captures carbon from power generation in order to use it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) while sequestrating the harmful CO2 gas in the reservoir.

The personal transition for me from oil and gas into clean energy was not difficult as I still remained in the energy landscape; I was simply switching forms of energy. The accumulated experience I had gained in project development, execution and management were easily transferable to the renewable sector. I could leverage on my experience to help Masdar build a new network of associates, partners and advisors on a global scale. Of course, this industry has its own specifics, but by and large – in terms of project management, risk, HSE, design and procurement – many of my skills translated very well.

As a top-ten oil and gas producer and simultaneously a global champion of renewable and clean energy, what is the significance of Masdar’s and the UAE’s role in developing the sector?

We are witnessing a growing interest in the adaptation of renewable energy in the region. For example, Saudi Arabia recently released tenders for two 50MW solar power plants, while Jordan has raised its projected solar capacity target to 1000MW by 2020. Morocco has also recently announced a national renewable and clean energy target of 52 percent to be achieved by 2030.

Furthermore, by implementing successful projects globally, we demonstrate that this sector works and is economically viable – and this message is amplified because it comes from a country that is perhaps not expected to be investing in this sector. This solidifies the importance of renewables on a global scale and helps to generate more interest in the sector.

Masdar is playing its part in helping sustain & expand Abu Dhabi’s legacy as a world champion in the energy sector. This legacy now expands into new forms of clean energy. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with my colleagues at Masdar and contribute to this and we will continue to build on this achievement.

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