For Qatar, special attention to environmental issues, especially climate change, is likely to ensue from the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, commonly known as COP 18, which is to take place here in the last quarter of 2012. Moreover, the sporting world is looking ahead to the year 2022, when Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup. Qatar must come to grips with the challenge of providing comfortable playing and spectating environments amid typically high summer temperatures while meeting the goal of running a carbon-neutral event.
Governments, businesses, and other organisations are responding in a variety of ways to environmental challenges and the associated expectations of stakeholders. One of the most exciting and promising responses, in economic terms as well as environmental and social terms, is the rapid growth of the cleantech industry.
According to the Cleantech Group, a research firm based in the United States, cleantech represents a diverse range of products, services, and processes, all intended to provide superior performance at lower costs, while greatly reducing or eliminating negative ecological impact while improving responsible use of natural resources.
The diversity of clean technologies that are on the market or in development reflects the reality that many environmental priorities can be addressed with a multiplicity of solutions installed widely, not exclusively with large-scale fixes. Cleantech solutions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions exemplify this diversity. While high-volume carbon capture and storage is widely regarded as a promising concept, other technologies for reducing GHG emissions are attracting investment and progressing through research and development.
Scanning the Technology Landscape
The search for new technologies to lessen GHG emissions and lower concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere, as well as the drive to commercialise these technologies, are taking place in Qatar with encouraging early results. Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) is building a plant to make polysilicon, an essential material for the production of solar power generation equipment. Launched as a joint venture between Qatar Foundation, SolarWorld AG, and the Qatar Development Bank, the first stage of the plant is scheduled to be completed in 2013, at which point it will produce 8,000 metric tons per year of polysilicon: enough to make solar equipment that will generate 1.4 gigawatt of solar energy. Further construction will increase output more than fivefold and will enable integrated manufacturing of solar cells and modules for use locally as well as across the Middle East and beyond the region.
The construction of the QSTec polysilicon plant points to a major opportunity for Qatar: to become a manufacturing hub for solar and other cleantech equipment. More specifically, Qatar might aim to take advantage of its regional position by specialising in technologies and products that are designed to work in similar natural conditions to Qatar’s own. The prospects to succeed from such a position are promising. For example, the World Bank has committed to invest significant capital in the development of solar power generation capacity in the Middle East and North Africa.
Another potential cleantech market might be energy-efficient water treatment and desalination. As noted in Qatar Today’s August 2012 issue, desalinating ocean water is an expensive and energy-intensive process that also increases concentrations of salt in the ground and in the sea. The high energy demand of desalination drives further carbon emissions. New technology for producing desalinated water with a more efficient use of energy could help Qatar and other water-scarce regions to meet the water needs without incurring heavy costs or causing inordinate harm to the climate.
Returning to the idea of carbon capture, a number of companies are developing systems that use algae and bacteria for carbon capture and storage, as well as other environmental remediation functions such as water treatment and chemicals processing. Some companies are seeking to “close the loop” of carbon emissions by feeding carbon dioxide from power plants to algae that can make synthetic oil or other biofuels. Others are converting industrial waste gases, some of which function as GHGs, into fuels and chemicals.
Can Qatar Become a Cleantech Hub?
Technology also has the potential to reduce GHG emissions in any number of ways, notably by improving the energy performance of buildings and equipment. Worldwide, buildings account for some 40% of GHG emissions, according to various estimates. Qatar has instituted the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), a scheme for rating green buildings that is custom-tailored to the needs of the Middle East and is now mandatory for all private sector and government projects in Qatar. By gaining experience and innovative capacity with energy-efficient buildings through the application of GSAS, Qatar could become a regional source of knowledge and products that will work well in other Middle Eastern countries.
Qatar has a tremendous opportunity to emerge as a cleantech R&D and manufacturing hub for the Middle East and North Africa region and is beginning to make some high-profile efforts in this direction. As suggested by the QSTec polysilicon plant, as well as the experience of other countries, both private and public financing are key to the cleantech equation. Public financing can take the form of direct investments from government entities and sovereign financial institutions. Perhaps more importantly, the public sector can design mechanisms for catalyzing further private sector investment in the cleantech industry. Careful attention to funding mechanisms and milestones will help Qatar harness the power of cleantech to secure a prosperous economic future that promotes social and environmental well-being.