Why solar power now makes financial and ecological sense
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Why solar power now makes financial and ecological sense

Why solar power now makes financial and ecological sense

Renewables are on track to overtake fossil fuels as the world’s largest source of electricity within five years

Gulf Business

Last month two astronauts from NASA and the European Space Agency installed the first of six solar arrays on the International Space Station. It was part of a project to increase the power generation capacity of the ISS to meet future energy needs, as it acts as a springboard for NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon in 2023. But while this made headlines, it’s worth taking note of how solar is increasingly playing a part in energy needs at home.

In many ways, what’s happening down here on earth is more impressive than what’s happening up there in space.

We all know that the planet needs to move towards greener energy sources, but it’s hard to get people to change when the cleaner alternative costs them significantly more. But that’s now rapidly changing. Solar power is getting cheaper all the time and is a renewable energy source we need to embrace.

I started at Bee’ah in 2009, some 12 years ago, and back then electricity from utility-scale solar photovoltaics cost $359 per MWh, but the cost has since dropped by a staggering 90 per cent. Imagine if the cost of food, healthcare or house prices had fallen by 90 per cent in that time. It would be transformative to society, but that’s exactly what has happened with solar energy.

Because the technology has continued to improve and scale in size the price has come down. A report from Carbon Tracker in 2020 revealed that it’s now cheaper to invest in renewables than in coal. Back in 2009, building a new solar farm was 223 per cent more expensive than building a new coal plant, but now electricity from a new coal plant is 177 per cent more expensive than from new solar panels. As a result, people are increasingly looking to invest in solar.

Elon Musk believes it will become the biggest energy source by 2031 and has referred to the sun as a “handy fusion reactor in the sky that produces ridiculous amounts of power.” He’s right. In fact, enough sunlight hits the Earth’s surface in 1½ hours to power the entire world’s electricity consumption for a year.

I’m proud to say that solar is already being embraced in the UAE, with the Noor Abu Dhabi plant creating enough clean electricity to meet the demands of 90,000 people. And when it’s completed, the Al Dhafra Solar Project will be the world’s largest single site photovoltaic plant in the world, generating enough electricity to sustain power for up to 160,000 homes. It will also reduce Abu Dhabi’s CO2 emissions by more than 2.4 million metric tons per year – the equivalent to removing 470,000 cars from roads.

At Bee’ah, we will convert 47 hectares of Al Saja’a landfill area in Sharjah into a solar energy facility once the landfill is capped, utilising this unused space to contribute to the UAE’s renewable energy mix.

Fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) currently account for around 79 per cent of the world’s energy production, but they’re not good for the planet. The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for 87 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions and a world run on fossil fuels is not sustainable. But the crucial economic argument for switching to greener energy sources is being won.

According to Forbes, renewables are on track to overtake fossil fuels as the world’s largest source of electricity within five years, and investors continue to flock to sustainable energy as the must-own asset of the future. The Global Commission on Economy and Climate says that a new climate economy, based in part on circular economy principles, could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030, compared with business as usual. And the customer base is growing every day.

There are 7.8 billion people on earth and the United Nations projects world population to reach 10 billion in the year 2057. With those 10 billion people requiring energy, the increasingly limited amount of fossil fuels will increase in cost in accordance with basic supply and demand.

A recent UN report showed that the average global temperature is likely to cross the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold within 20 years. But pledges from governments around the world to cut emissions are nowhere near enough to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – and these are mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels.

Meanwhile the price of solar continues to fall, becoming increasingly viable every year as we enter a new age of alternative energy.

In 1973 the Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani famously said, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.”

And the oil age will not end because we’ve run out of oil, but rather because we embrace and expand the increasingly affordable and workable clean-energy alternatives that our planet urgently needs.

Khaled Al Huraimel is the group CEO of Bee’ah

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