It's ironic and symbolic of our times that an area of the world now appallingly wealthy thanks to being stocked to the eyeballs with oil is now under threat from the unsustainable impact of its trade in the black gold.
A rise in sea levels of 1m will put 1,155km2 of Abu Dhabi's coastline underwater. According to an Abu Dhabi government report on global warming, precisely such an event is "not unlikely" to happen by 2050 they say. So the UAE really does have good reason to champion renewable technology.
The impact of climate change made for a concerned mood at the 2012 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. The event was hosted by some of the world's largest oil and gas companies. On the surface, it was a showcase for emerging renewable energy technologies, with a heavy focus on glass solar photovoltaic panels and wind.
The tone and opening presentation championed innovation like a demi-god bearing the keys to the gates of paradise. Innovation was the key driver to defeat climate change; the last great hope to avert an energy crises; the tool to encourage environmental responsibility and the only way to create a sustainable future of prosperity fuelled by renewable energy.
Innovation, innovation, innovation was the mantra at the top of the list for the swathes of Heads of State, key industry spokesmen and comperes: "Our world has always been driven by innovation and powered by imagination." Arguably true but it belied the short-term, profit-driven decision making that still dominates our planets energy sector.
We were invited to join the UK trade delegation at the Summit. Despite the sloganeering and idealistic talk, we were the only specialist innovation-focussed company exhibiting. We showcased our 2011/12 innovation incubator projects and focussed on our Marine Solar Cell technology as a lead to generate potential partnerships and thankfully we had overwhelming support from individuals on every stand we talked to.
Away from the public facing presentations, corporate financier complained about the practicalities of solar and wind power, the inefficiencies, the difficulties and the less favourable economics. Now is not the time to be investing in anything, let alone renewables or new innovation in energy.
Our Marine Solar Cells (MSC) were created precisely to tackle these challenges posed by the energy sector. MSCs are a hybrid solar and wave energy system with the unprecedented ability to establish photovoltaic power generation at sea. With interest from Masdar, Siemens, GE and MIT(EI) to name only a few, we are confident that we can deliver the first off-shore solar farm in the world. Fingers crossed post Summit.
￼The thinking behind the MSC design stems from the cost and availability of land as a significant hurdle in the installation of large-scale solar power facilities globally. Energy generated at sea could be channelled back to land through either underwater cables or through a network of "battery" shipping tankers. Alternatively, it could be used to supply power for off-shore construction projects, such as wind farms and tidal energy projects.
The economics of driving a new world energy economy aren't straightforward and one might think we have more pressing concerns at hand. On the other hand, shouldn't we all have a say in what we spend public profit on from natural resource extraction other than supporting a arthritic capitalist system?
Adu Dhabi's rags-to-riches story is a modern day fairy tale. However, it may not have a happy ending. This 40-year-old coastal state is built almost entirely on ground no more than three to four feet above sea level. If sea levels do rise, the UAE will be one of the first to disappear underwater.
￼Seemingly, we have passed the point of no return. We have to keep pumping natural resources to fuel construction of flood defenses. We use air-con to stop the effects of global warming, all the while making the underlying problem worse. Take the proposed new London airport for example; built by profiteering from nature and designed to stop flooding caused by global warming reaching past the Thames Estuary.
Profits from natural resources will continue to be funneled into infrastructure, especially NOW flood defenses while only a small amount will pay lip service to renewable energy and new energy innovation. Most of these new technologies will be criticized for not performing as well as conventional energy sources however much demand or calling there is for them.
Profits from non-renewable sources will be plundered and spent on repairing damage caused to communities as a result of their use. However, rather than complaining about short-term difficulties, the smart money still flows into innovative renewable projects. It may be slow but it's the only long term option - especially if we want sustainable solutions that don't come back to haunt us when the tides come rolling in.