A region on its way to more clean energy useA worldwide race to decarbonize is on, and each country’s performance relies on policy, ingenuity, and smart infrastructure. What does the race look like in the UAE?
In 2017, the UAE government announced its ‘Energy Strategy 2050’ – a commitment that aims to double clean energy use (to 50% of the energy mix) by the middle of the century¹. At the same time, the strategy would reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70% and increase energy efficiency by 40%.
These commitments follow the UAE’s impressive array of urban infrastructure projects that have rolled out over the past 20 years. The nation has used a government-led approach to planning and funding urban development, where a long-term vision for the nation has been followed quite closely. Expo 2020 in Dubai showcased much of what we can expect from the UAE in the next 20 years, with a particular emphasis on sustainability.
In our survey, senior infrastructure stakeholders in the UAE say their organizations committed to sustainability targets quite early compared to their international peers: 48% had adopted significant low-carbon or net zero targets in 2016 or before, compared to an all-country average of just 32%. And their targets are ambitious, with the overwhelming majority expecting their organizations to be carbon neutral by 2030.
It’s worth mentioning that respondents from the UAE are more confident that the world can transition to net zero without carbon taxes (78%) than the average (63%), perhaps because they can see the level of change that is possible when the central government successfully leads infrastructure stakeholders towards a long-term vision.
“There was a time when everyone seemed to think climate resilience was someone else's problem, or too big a problem for them to impact. Today, most of the people that we're working with, including private developers, are concerned about climate resilience,” says Dubai-based Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM, a multinational infrastructure consulting firm.
If you can sense what is actually happening in real time you can make drastic improvements in efficiencies at building level, and at city level.Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM
What is the New Space Race?
A New Space Race is a Siemens Smart Infrastructure thought leadership study about how infrastructure stakeholders view the immediate and longer-term future of our built environment and energy systems.
It is based on a survey of 501 senior infrastructure stakeholders from 10 countries as well as in-depth interviews and desk research. The research covered mainly commercial real estate (e.g. office towers, campuses, hospitals, data centers, or factories), public sector assets (e.g. community centers, transport hubs, education assets, or healthcare infrastructure), and energy assets (e.g. electricity grids, gas networks, wind farms, etc). Respondents were involved in infrastructure as owners, developers, or operators.
Decarbonization often relies on digitalization
According to our survey, the UAE does seem less focused on demand-side strategies, with a lower proportion than the average (63% vs 81%) believing that more attention and investment should be given to improvements in energy efficiency and demand management. However, the UAE has made several significant investments in renewable energy production, including one of the largest solar power projects in the world.
The energy industry respondents in our survey highlighted how digitalization is crucial to advances in both energy efficiency and the integration of more sustainable energy sources. Like for most countries, infrastructure stakeholders in the UAE believe more could be done: a moderate majority (63%, in line with the average for all countries) believe that the digitalization of buildings and power networks is lagging the progress of digitalization of most other industries, and only 28% of UAE respondents say they are making full use of all the data available to them (similar to the all-country average, 31%).
This does appear to be something that might change quickly: UAE respondents expect AI-driven prediction and automation to have a major impact on infrastructure assets, projects, or investments over the next five years, rating it significantly higher than any other area. Real-time data from infrastructure assets will play a key role in driving these. “In the past, especially at city-level, you had to operate on assumptions about problems that arise because there are no sensors, no data,” says Velegrinis, “so the ability to instantly understand the location and nature of issues is very powerful. If you can sense what is actually happening in real time you can make drastic improvements in efficiencies at building level, and at city level.”
Top 5 factors influencing future infrastructure in the UAEThese are the most important factors influencing future infrastructure projects and investments, according to our survey among infrastructure stakeholders in the UAE.
Decarbonization perspectives of infrastructure stakeholders in the UAE
Biggest impact technologies over the next five yearsThese technologies have been rated most impactful on infrastructure over the next five years by energy and building experts from the UAE.
¹ This includes an estimated 6% nuclear energy
We would like to extend a special thank you to the diverse set of industry leaders and experts who shared their ideas and insights with us as part of this study.
- Ali Alsuwaidi, vice-president of the Middle East Facilities Management Association
- Wayne Butcher, director at Grant Thornton UK LLP
- Ewan Jones, Partner at Grimshaw
- Jeremy Kelly, Research Director at JLL
- Kerstin Sailer, Co-Founder of Brainybirdz and Professor in the Sociology of Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
- Maia Small, Manager, policies and strategies at San Francisco Planning
- Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM
- Christian Waglechner, senior development manager at CA Immobilien Anlagen AG (CA Immo)
- Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in energy resources, mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and former chief science and technology officer at ENGIE
- Xiaohu Tao, Vice President, Business Innovation and Digital, in Energy Networks at E.ON
This thought leadership study is based on a survey, in-depth interviews and desk research. It is not an academic or scientific research paper. Our goal is not to provide any final answers, but rather to start conversations, stimulate thought, and encourage infrastructure stakeholders to reflect on what today’s megatrends mean for the future of our energy system and built environment.
The survey included 501 respondents from 10 countries. The countries involved include those large-scale and/or highly advanced infrastructure assets and ambitions. It was fielded in June and July 2021.