Masdar, the clean energy company and creator of the eponymous “green city” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, launched a $32 million solar plant in Mauritania. The Sheikh Zayed Solar Power Plant, located in the capital, Nouakchott, will generate 15 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) power and, according to Masdar, is now the largest PV plant in all of Africa. It will, in fact, deliver 10% of the country’s current electricity load.
Yesterday’s launch of the new solar power plant is significant for several reasons. Masdar City, only one part of the company but the immediate showpiece that comes to mind, is often derided as a fluff project in a country that is one of the world’s highest carbon emitters per capita. And while the United Arab Emirates’ massive carbon output is, of course, concerning, at the same time the UAE’s leadership has shown it is willing to be part of the solution in addressing climate change and energy scarcity. As much of the developed world from the U.S. to Japan is mired in debt and political polarization, there is an opening for such countries in the Middle East as the UAE and nearby Qatar to invest in renewables–after all, their reserves of oil and gas are finite.
Masdar kicked off the Mauritania project last fall as part of its commitment to the UN’s “Year of Sustainable Energy for All.” As announced last year by UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, Sustainable Energy for All aimed to expand modern energy sources to those who could least afford it; double energy efficiency worldwide; and double the amount of clean electricity and power within the globe’s total energy portfolio. The results may not have been as impressive as the goals, but arguably the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Masdar kept their end of the deal.
Mauritania’s energy grid is currently marred by energy shortages and both expensive and dirty diesel generators. Masdar claims the new solar energy plant, with its 30,000 solar panels in Nouakchott, will displace over 21,000 tons of carbon emissions annually and will provide up to 10 percent of the country’s total energy needs. Should this new plant prove to be an important anchor of Mauritania’s energy potential, more hope is on the horizon: Masdar claims the country’s wind potential is four times the its current energy demands.
A foreign policy from an oil emirate that in part relies on delivering foreign aid via renewables? The UAE is certainly moving forward with this strategy with Masdar at the helm.