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Cleantech Cooperation

Insider comment on the Masdar-DoE MoU.

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Masdar are developing the world's first carbon neutral city in Abu Dhabi.
Masdar are developing the world's first carbon neutral city in Abu Dhabi.
Paul Dickerson, partner, Haynes and Boone
Paul Dickerson, partner, Haynes and Boone

Masdar and the US Department of Energy have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Paul Dickerson, a former top official at the DoE, comments on the implications.

Late in April, Masdar and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote collaboration on clean and sustainable energy technologies.

While a detailed plan for cooperation will be worked out over the coming months, it is already clear that the MoU will allow Masdar to participate in DoE-funded projects, while the department will receive R&D support from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a not-for-profit, post-graduate research institute dedicated to renewable energy.

Another key objective, says Masdar, is to provide better and easier access for small and medium sized enterprises within the United Arab Emirates and the United States to enter their respective markets. The UAE is already the top Middle Eastern destination for US goods - in 2009 US exports into the emirates totalled US$12.1bn.

Paul Dickerson, head of Haynes and Boone’s Cleantech Practice Group, was chief operating officer at the DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Between early 2006 and late 2008, “one of the greatest growth spurts in the short history of cleantech,” he oversaw EERE’s work in developing and commercialising alternative and renewable energy technologies.

The exchange between Masdar and the Department of Energy stretches back to your time as the COO of the department’s renewable energy division. Now it has been formalised in an MoU. What is driving this increasingly close relationship between the two bodies?
There is a growing recognition that incumbent energy players have a pivotal role to play in aiding the world’s energy transformation. It is not just about access to capital – it is about tapping energy experts who have decades of experience planning and managing large-scale energy infrastructure projects.

Are you enthusiastic about the new partnership? Is it in line with the vision you had for the cooperation between the UAE and the US during your time at the DoE?
Absolutely. The MoU is exactly the kind of relationship we anticipated building when I led the first-ever US clean energy trade mission to the UAE during my time at the Energy Department.

What are the key benefits of the agreement?
In my view, the biggest near-term opportunity is in building technology. By taking on the world’s biggest zero-carbon urban project in Masdar City, our friends in Abu Dhabi are going to gain access to all kinds of unprecedented information on building efficiency – what works and what doesn’t. And they will gain a treasure trove of information from the DOE’s national laboratories on breakthrough technologies that are just waiting for a venue to shine.

Is the MoU good news for companies trying to gain access to new markets?
The MoU is great news for companies trying to gain access to new markets. Achieving scale for these emerging technologies is probably their most difficult challenge. Once companies can prove their technologies’ worth on a grand scale like Masdar City, then buyers won’t be far behind.

What else needs to be done to promote alternative energies in the GCC?
Given the region’s rich solar resources, it is probably just a matter of time before other GCC nations jumpstart their own deployment projects. Countries can get a head start now by implementing additional policies that incentivize the use of solar energy and energy efficient technologies.

The UAE and GCC countries in general are also investing heavily in nuclear and conventional gas power plants. Do you think renewables will become a significant part of the region's power generation mix ?
Over time, renewables will become a significant part of the power generation mix in the GCC. But ‘time’ is the operable word because the world is in for a long energy transformation. That means we will need to continue to rely on traditional energy sources in the interim.

Which green technologies hold the most promise in the GCC, and which countries do you believe will play a leading role in developing them?
Clearly, the UAE has taken a leadership role in this space. In particular, they have done a very impressive job in employing some of the region’s historic Arabic building designs to take advantage of their abundant solar resources. Their work in using Abu Dhabi’s warm winds to cool buildings is wildly innovative. Saudi Arabia’s use of solar energy in its water desalination plants is going to look incredibly prescient years from now.

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