Paul Dickerson offers advice to Middle Eastern utilities
Paul Dickerson, partner at Haynes and Boone and former COO of the US Department of Energy’s renewable energy division, considers the local sector
How is the US progressing with the implementation of the smart grid?
Clearly there’s an interest in making the grid smarter so it can communicate better, but it takes a while to get the right regulatory framework and financing in place. I think in countries like those in the MENA region, which are building some of their grids for the first time, they have a unique opportunity to build them ‘smart’. With some of the older economies such as the UK and the US, these nations have established grids, making it much more complex to revamp them.
What’s your assessment of President Obama’s drive towards renewable energies?
I think President Obama and his team have been doing an excellent job in pushing for both renewables and energy efficiency. But there are areas for caution. We’re seeing a trend towards paying for renewables on the back of traditional energy companies – such as oil and gas and utilities firms – whereas we’ve been encouraging much more of a partnership. When you speak with investors about the need to scale up these clean energy companies, there’s a real need for talent, and that talent currently resides within established oil and gas companies and established utilities. We need to find ways to better partner ‘old energy’ and ‘new energy’ use so we can help scale it in our nation and around the world.
Which renewable technologies are the ‘ones to watch’?
With regard to energy-efficiency technologies for a world facing difficult economic times, being able to get a real return on investment through energy efficiency seems to be catching on. I think you’ll see a continued push for solar. Within MENA, solar and wind resources could be the greatest in the world. So in terms of opportunities for the region to meet its growing power demand and reduce pollution levels, it’s important to remember that these methods can also create some self-sustaining industrial sectors, which will also help to diversify your GDP.
What key projects in the ME are you excited about?
I was very excited while at the Department of Energy, leading our nation’s investment in cleaner energy, when I first met Dr Sultan [Al Jaber], and the team at Masdar. On our side, there is a continued effort to develop relationships and push more US companies towards the Middle East. So my advice would be for MENA countries to continue to build partnerships with US companies looking to diversify their customer base abroad. Our friends in the Middle East have been so generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge of traditional energy and the production and distribution of oil and gas. I know many of my friends in Silicon Valley, Boston and New York, with vibrant renewable and efficiency companies, would like to penetrate that market and work with our friends in the Middle East.
What do you feel are the region’s strongest traits with regard to cleaner technologies?
You can’t just focus on research and development - you also need to actually focus on commercialising these technologies and getting them to market. Our friends in the Middle East region have been particularly brilliant at that – pulling together full-scale commercial developments, drawing in technologies at an early stage, and then deploying them in a way that sets an example both for the region and for the rest of the world.
In your view, is there anywhere for climate change “deniers” to hide today?
What I think we’ve found both in the US and around the world is a recognition that clean energy is no longer solely about the environment. It’s no longer a charity project. It is a combination of helping our environment, helping our economy and helping our national security. Can people continue to deny that the world is warming? Sure they can – but I would encourage them to look at the three legs of the stool and not just the one. National security and the economy are at least as important as decreasing carbon emissions worldwide.