Slow grid connections and delays over the issuing of permits risk holding back the development of renewable energy in the UK and further afield, the boss of Abu Dhabi renewable energy group Masdar has warned.
Mohamed Al Ramahi, chief executive of the state-backed company, said the group faced a struggle to “execute as fast as we want to” as it eyes new wind, solar and battery projects around the world.
His comments echo other developers, such as National Grid, that have warned about practical and bureaucratic hurdles getting in the way of new infrastructure such as electricity cables and wind turbines.
Masdar has set a target of growing its portfolio of clean energy projects from 20GW at the end of last year to 100GW by 2030 — potentially enough to power as many as 100mn homes.
The group was set up by the UAE government in 2006 as part of efforts to diversify from oil. As of December 2022, it is owned by Abu Dhabi’s Taqa, Mubadala and Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company).
It has developed a global portfolio of projects such as wind, solar and energy from waste plants, in areas including the US, Egypt and Australia.
In the UK, its investments include the London Array wind farm off the Kent coast, in which it has a 20 per cent stake.
Masdar bought UK battery developer Arlington Energy in 2022, and says it plans to invest £1bn in battery storage technology in Britain.
“We have the right solutions and technologies . . . The real issue we face is the ability to execute as fast as we want to, in the UK and elsewhere,” said Al Ramahi.
He was speaking to the Financial Times from Abu Dhabi after signing a deal with the UK’s Octopus Energy to license its Kraken technology to help manage its portfolio of batteries in the UK.
Kraken will help Masdar choose the best times to discharge or store power from the batteries, depending on demand and supply on the electricity grid. There is growing demand for batteries to help smooth out intermittent wind and solar power supplies.
“The infrastructure, the ability to connect to the grids, and procedures that have been designed a long time ago. I think those are matters we need to focus on,” Al Ramahi added.
“It’s not specific to the UK. It’s a challenge we all face. If we are serious about decarbonisation, about achieving our renewable energy targets, we need to really think about how we can create the infrastructure, procedures and workflows to allow people like us to move.”
Al Ramahi stressed Masdar was “very committed” to the UK, which will “never change”, and it is growing its presence in the country.
He added he hoped the licensing deal with Octopus would be the start of a wider partnership between the two companies.
Greg Jackson, chief executive of Octopus Energy, echoed Al Ramahi’s comments on barriers to renewable energy.
“Across Europe, including the UK, the barriers in permitting and grid connections mean that even though the capital is sitting there, even though the money and the technologies are ready to go, we’re not able to deploy it to bring benefits to citizens.”
The UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “We want to go further as part of our plans to power up Britain with cleaner, cheaper and more secure homegrown energy.”
The UAE is set to host the COP28 climate summit in Abu Dhabi this year. Climate activists have criticised the decision to appoint Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive of the state oil company Adnoc, as chair of the talks.
Al Ramahi noted Jaber’s role as the founding chief executive, and current chair, of Masdar, arguing the UAE had “been at the forefront of decarbonisation and investing in clean energy”. He added: “It’s triggered from the top. We are committed.”
Masdar has so far invested in or signed up to $30bn in clean energy projects. But the Adnoc board last year accelerated its oil production by bringing forward its capacity expansion to 2027 from 2030 and signed off on $150bn in capital spending over five years to 2027. Adnoc’s capital spending earmarked for “low carbon solutions” stood at just $15bn for the years to 2030.