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A green recovery begins with solar rooftops

Moustafa Nour/Dubai
Filed on August 1, 2020
A solar rooftop programme will contribute significantly to the UAE's plans to become a global leader in sustainability.

Buildings contribute 40 per cent of the world's carbon emissions.

There's been lots of talk about creative ways to make use of rooftop spaces during the past couple of weeks, from artwork installations to even a drive-in cinema. I want to add one more idea to the mix. Our rooftops can power our homes, offices, buildings, and even cities. And it's never been easier to do this, thanks to advances in solar rooftop technologies combined with advanced data analytics and remote connectivity.

Consider this - our buildings contribute 40 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. And the simplest option we have to decarbonize is to use the one building space that is rarely utilized, namely the roof. In Europe, research suggests that installing solar panels on available rooftop space could save up to 7 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

A solar rooftop programme wouldn't just contribute significantly to the UAE's plans to become a global leader in sustainability; it'd also create local, qualified, and sustainable jobs, and be at the heart of a new green economy.

We've seen ambitious projects that have looked to make solar rooftops a regular sight in the country. Under Shams Dubai, DEWA's initiative to connect solar energy to buildings, Dubai Carbon has undertaken a number of initiatives to install solar paneling on an industry scale. One of the most ambitious has been in Hatta, where Dubai Carbon installed 1836.4KWp of paneling on 430 villas and a number of additional buildings over two phases. While the majority of this power will be used by the building residents, the surplus energy produced is being fed into the electricity grid.

Let's think even bigger. Cities such as Dubai have sizable commercial rooftop space. Imagine what could be done on the malls, for example. Take the example of the Mall of Africa, South Africa's largest indoor shopping space. The structure has one of the largest solar photovoltaic systems in the world, which can generate 7,800 MWh/y of power. Not only that, but the installation also created 50 temporary jobs and two full-time roles at the Mall.

Can you imagine the possibilities here? We can too. But to bring these opportunities to life, we need three elements to come to light. Firstly, there're regulations. We can see the impact that forward-looking laws can have on the solar industry in Jordan, where the country's net metering law has promoted widespread interest in solar rooftop installations. One can go further and argue that simplifying application processes for new solar rooftop projects and removing regulatory uncertainties around net metering, open access charges, and the like can help accelerate the deployment of rooftop solar.

The second element is awareness and access to funding. Building owners know what solar paneling is, but many aren't aware of the costs and the payback. More awareness is going to help the market grow. By offering new financing models, building owners will be more likely to take up the opportunity and invest. We turn again to Jordan, where the country's national renewable energy fund has provided the finances for rooftop photovoltaic systems on schools, hospitals, and even mosques.

The third is adapting to digital technologies. Cutting-edge digital platforms combined with advanced analytics and remote connectivity, bring visibility to energy management, and give stakeholders access to more accurate and complete information.

Leveraging digital technology gives leaders mission-critical data to help them prepare in advance for emerging situations. One of the benefits of the connectivity in our "always-on" digital world is that, when combined with a solid strategy, technology enables agility and better decisions.

Dewa's Shams scheme has undoubtedly achieved transformational growth, with at least 106 MW of solar generation installed across Dubai. What we are excited about is the opportunity to pick up the pace, and see even more building owners look to solar rooftop paneling as a way to power their buildings, reduce their carbon emissions and become more sustainable.

We'd like to end this article not with our words, but rather those of the MD and CEO of Dewa, Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer. This vision is one that we should all aspire to if Dubai is to both be a leader in the world's green economy as well as an environmental safeguard for our children.

"Installing photovoltaic solar systems in our homes, organisations, and factories is an important step in harnessing the power of the sun that God has granted us all year round. This transforms energy consumers into producers and will achieve the vision of the wise leadership to diversify energy sources within the concept of the smart and happy city. This will ensure a sustainable future for generations to come."


Moustafa Nour is a regional manager, Solar Business, MENA, Schneider Electric. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.


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