Energy in Crisis: Accelerating Clean Energy Security
The current European energy crisis has brought into sharp focus the strategic vulnerabilities in global energy security.
While governments of developed nations rush to mitigate short-term energy scarcity and cost of living impacts to their citizens, we must not do this at the cost of forgetting our climate change goals.
The time for decisive and transformative energy policy is upon us. The strategic priority is not just about energy security, but clean energy security. Latest IPCC reports state that carbon emissions should peak in 2025 and rapidly reduce by 43% by 2030 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and escape the worst effects of climate change.
To reach Net Zero by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to $4 trillion. To be effectively implemented, those investment decisions need to be taken by 2030.
We need realistic and proven technologies for the energy sector, which provide security, stability and reliability – even through periods of social and economic disruption – whilst supporting our climate change targets.
We need low-carbon sources that not only replace existing fossil-fuel generated electricity demand, but also work to support our growing global energy needs, which, on average, double every 20 years.
And perhaps most importantly, we need these solutions today.
Following COP26, there has been a resurgence of support for investment into nuclear energy technologies.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) stated that global climate objectives will not be met without nuclear energy. The International Energy Agency (IEA’s) roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 calls for a doubling of nuclear capacity.
Countries including the US and Canada have reaffirmed their commitment to low-carbon nuclear as a central component of their Net Zero energy strategies. France has committed to building at least eight new reactors, and the UK has recently announced that nuclear energy will constitute 25% of its energy supply by 2050.
Nuclear investment throughout growing economies across the Middle East and Asia is seeing the most growth, with China set to spend $440 billion on 150 reactors over the next 15 years.
The reason behind this growth is simple – deploying a source of high-capacity clean electricity enables undisrupted economic growth whilst eliminating carbon emissions. There are few, if any, other technologies today that can deliver the same level of energy security alongside large-scale decarbonization.
The perceived barriers to nuclear construction are significant; historically, cost overruns and time to deploy, But with sound policy, favourable financing and effective project management, nuclear energy can provide an economically viable and time-critical solution to clean energy security. Particularly given the 60-80 year life-span of advanced commercial plants. The UAE’s nuclear energy program is evidence of this.
The UAE’s Clean Energy Transition
In just over a decade, the UAE has demonstrated that a complex new build nuclear construction program can be delivered to the highest standards of safety, security and quality. Today – the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is the largest source of clean electricity in the UAE.
In fact the UAE has been heavily investing in clean energy technologies for more than 15 years. The backbone of this progress has been a long-term, technology-agnostic energy policy, that emphasises diversification, decarbonisation and electrification.
In parallel with solar energy and natural gas, nuclear energy is an essential component of the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 Strategy and is leading the nation’s power sector decarbonisation.
In 2024 when the Barakah Plant is fully operational, nuclear energy will power up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs.
A recent report by S&P Global identified the significant role of nuclear energy in the UAE, accelerating the decarbonization of the Nation’s power sector and achievement of Net Zero 2050. Indeed, the report forecasts that over 18 million tons of carbon emissions will be eliminated, equal to 25% of the UAE targets set out in its National Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Beyond this, the four units of the Barakah plant will reduce national gas consumption in 2030 by between 900 MMcf (million cubic feet) per day and 1,200 MMcf per day, equivalent to 155,000–205,000 barrels of oil per day, or over 65 million barrels per year, on average. In turn, this will support the UAE with its plans to become a net exporter of natural gas in this same period, and allow for the advancement of plans to expand LNG export capacity during this critical period of global energy security challenges.
But that is not where the value of nuclear energy investment ends. A decade ago, the UAE’s nuclear energy experts were few. Today, we have a team of thousands, a comprehensive regulatory framework, domestic university courses and technical training programs, and a local supply chain worth millions of dirhams annually.
But the plant and its immediate economic benefits are just the tip of the iceberg – nuclear energy is a bridge to new clean technologies and a catalyst for innovation.
With further investment into nuclear, we aim to magnify the benefits of clean and abundant electricity.
We are already evaluating emerging reactor technologies such as SMR’s, through to nuclear technology advancements in industries including medicine, agriculture and even space exploration.
Clean hydrogen powered by nuclear energy is another area offering enormous potential to revolutionise sectors that are hard to electrify including manufacturing, transport and heavy industry. The UAE is already exploring opportunities here.
And of course, we have the opportunity to build on our successes at Barakah. Suject to leadership approval, expanding our existing fleet of reactors would enable us to increase clean electricity production.
This model would not only support regional decarbonisation, it would also increase security of supply and reduce the cost of electricity to end users. Greater regional grid links may also offer increased geopolitical stability, as well as improving equitable access to those populations living without a reliable electricity supply today.
Certainly, nuclear energy offers great promise – not only for global clean energy security, but for global economic growth.
For that promise to be realised, we need energy leadership today.
Now is the time to accelerate investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure. But investment cannot happen without sound and stable energy policy, that is grounded in science and pragmatism.
Governments, industry and business must work together, and the right policy catalysts and financial drivers are critical – all low-carbon technologies need access to ESG financing that drive cost-efficiencies and technological breakthroughs.
The UAE has proven that nuclear energy can deliver energy security alongside rapid, large-scale decarbonisation, with immense economic benefits in supporting a net zero economy.
It is our hope that our experience will encourage other nations to pursue nuclear energy on their path to an energy-secure Net Zero future.
By ENEC MD & CEO His Excellency Mohamed Al Hammadi