Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States, was awarded the Zayed Future Energy Prize Lifetime Achievement on Jan 19 in Abu Dhabi.
The prize is a $4 million award sponsored by the United Arab Emirates, which is widely recognized as the highest distinction in the field of renewable energy and sustainability.
Gore’s award drew more media attention than last year’s winner, who was Chinese entrepreneur Wang Changfu, founder and president of BYD Co Ltd, a leading alternative-fuel vehicle producer in China.
The prize was a significant recognition of the efforts of BYD, a private company that focuses on developing electric cars to reduce carbon emissions. Wang’s story inspired many foreign participants during the award ceremony last year, which was attended by thousands of politicians from many countries, climate change advocates, business officials and members of international organizations.
In addition to large corporations and business leaders, the prize also recognizes communities and small projects that try to achieve sustainability by innovation. However, it has not aroused much interest in China, even though the country is the biggest energy consumer and has the world’s largest installed capacity for renewable energy.
Nawal Al-Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, a State-owned renewable energy company in the UAE and representative of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, paid her first visit to Beijing in 2013 to encourage more Chinese companies, individuals and community projects to apply for the prize.
She told me that the number of Chinese applicants was not in line with China’s huge renewable energy industry, especially solar. There could be many reasons for that.
Cultural differences are one. Except for huge shopping malls and luxury racing cars in Dubai, the Chinese impression of the UAE remains one of deserts and rich oil reserves. So it is hard to expect a school association or community group will even think about applying for a sustainability award in Abu Dhabi.
Language was said by Al-Hosany to be the biggest obstacle for Chinese applicants, but I doubt that.
All in all, the UAE’s commitment to sustainability should not be ignored by Chinese governments and companies since it will offer a huge market for governmental cooperation and business opportunities for China’s solar and wind manufacturers.
The world will run out of oil sooner or later. The highly oil-dependent UAE has sought for many years to develop renewables.
I paid a visit to Shams 1, a 100-megawatt concentrated solar power plant in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi. The first of its kind in the Middle East, the project is one of the largest in the world, with an area of 2.5 square kilometers, equal to 285 football fields.
It has supplied power to 20,000 UAE homes since its completion in 2013. However, deputy general manager of Shams Power Company, Abdul Aziz Al Obaidli, said that most of the components came from Germany. There were none from China.
As the biggest solar panel producer and exporter, China has been a little slower than some other countries to explore the solar market in the UAE.
United States-based First Solar Inc and French oil player Total both have invested in the region’s renewable industry.
But when I visited the renewables exhibition during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi on Jan 20, I was pleased to see a Chinese corner with 20-odd booths, most of which were solar companies trying to sell models in UAE.
Helena Li, managing director of Trina Solar Ltd’s Asia business, said the company has set up a five-person team with three local residents in Dubai to explore the solar market in the UAE.
China has a long history of crude oil trading with the Middle East, which has contributed to the rapid development of the world’s second-largest economy. In the future, China may bring more technology and equipment for renewables to the desert, where there is always enough bright sunshine.