Interview

Interview (7)

(Read the article on the occasion of this visit by clicking here)

 

(بالعربية)

 

On the occasion of the visit of the Secretary General of the Federation of the Gulf Cooperation Council Chambers (FGCCC) GCC Chambers, Abdulrahim Hassan Naqi to Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Industry in December 2017. This led to the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties. We had this interview with Mr. Naqi on the sideline of the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

 

1/ During your last visit to the city of Geneva in December, you signed a memorandum of understanding, why choose Geneva itself?

There is no doubt that the city of Geneva is an important and attractive city for cooperation in the field of economy and trade. It is considered an economic capital because it is characterized by a strategic position for the global economy, as well as an incubator of the United Nations and other international organizations and international bodies and centers. Switzerland has strong economic ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council, not to mention the GCC countries are Switzerland's first partner in the Middle East. The volume of foreign trade between the GCC and Switzerland has grown rapidly over the past years. Trade volume has increased from $3.5 billion in 2005 to $8 billion in 2012 and then to $25 billion in 2016. The UAE is Switzerland first trade partner with imports from Switzerland worth $15.6 billion and exports of $4.2 billion. Saudi Arabia is the second trade partner with imports of $2.4 billion and exports of $325 million.

The Swiss trade balance remained stable for Switzerland, with Swiss exports reaching about $20 billion and Swiss imports reaching about $5 billion.

 

2/ What is the most important points in this Memorandum, how do you view the future cooperation with Geneva Chamber and the Swiss economic cooperation with the GCC countries?

The Memorandum of Understanding reflected the sincere desire of the two parties to enhance cooperation and communication between their private sectors. The discussion of the memorandum lasted more than 6 months. It confirms the willingness of both sides to open many prospects for cooperation. The memorandum, which included nine items, open many horizons for cooperation, foremost of which was the organization of a Gulf-Swiss economic forum in 2018, in order to finalize the forum we have identified liaison officers. We are looking forward to discuss the prospects of economic relations and trade trends in the future, as well as to enhance confidence between the two sides. We are eager to take advantage of the facilities available for investment opportunities between the two sides

The Forum will discuss the most important challenges facing investors in order to facilitate investment related aspects. The MoU also included the coordination of bilateral meetings between members of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and the members of each local Chamber of Commerce in the Gulf countries. We have agreed to organize the forum periodically in the Gulf cooperation council states and Switzerland.

 

3/ Are there other memorandums of understanding or joint agreements between the Federation of Gulf Chambers and the Swiss Chambers of Commerce and Industry?

Yes, with the help of God, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Center for Commercial Arbitration of the Swiss Arbitration Chamber on August 7, 2017, as well as the establishment of a Swiss Gulf economic platform in Geneva aimed at enhancing cooperation and activating memorandums of understanding between the two sides. There are a range of programs and initiatives for small and medium enterprises, as well as programs for entrepreneurs and young people, as well as other programs to enhance communication between businesswomen of the Arab Gulf States and their Swiss counterparts.

 

4/ What are the goals you are looking for through signing this MoU?

One of the main objectives of the Memorandum of Understanding is to increase investment opportunities between the two sides, organize joint events, organise visits for trade delegations between the two regions, encourage technology transfer, spread awareness of private sectors of both sides on the most important investment opportunities in both regions, as well as performing programs to facilitate the exchange of experience in the areas of technology and commercial franchise, especially cooperation between small and medium enterprises, and strengthening cooperation between the private sectors of both sides. The MoU also included the foundations of the organization of the Swiss Gulf Economic Forum in September 2018, which will be the first fruit of such cooperation.

 

5/ Do you expect this agreement to have consequences on trade cooperation?

Yes, we expect this MoU to open new horizons for cooperation, especially in the provision of distinguished services to members of the Gulf Chambers, and to benefit from the development of business through the cooperation of Gulf and Swiss institutions in expanding trade exchanges in goods and services, especially in the handicrafts and crafts industries, and the marketing of the Gulf cooperation council products in food and other services in which it as relative advantage.

 

6/ Do you have plans to organise delegations of businessmen/women under this MoU?

Yes, official invitations have been sent to the Swiss Chambers to visit the GCC countries, in addition to organizing visits by specialized trade delegations representing various sectors of health, education, food and other Swiss companies to the Gulf Chambers of Commerce, in order to meet their counterparts, and to familiarise with the investment environment in the GCC countries, and to discover the most important investment opportunities. That will be the occasion to arrange meetings with officials in the public and private institutions.

 

7/ What advice do you give to businessmen who wish to invest in the GCC?

We know that Switzerland has the economic and financial resources, and has sufficient experience in the field of services, especially education, banking, health and technology, especially in watches and jewelry, not to mention the agricultural and food special capacities. Therefore, Gulf businessmen have great opportunities to benefit from these elements and to establish strategic partnerships that serve the interests of the Gulf. In addition to inviting the 750,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the Gulf to develop their business with Swiss companies, as well as benefiting Gulf businessmen and young people from their Swiss counterparts in developing the innovation and entrepreneurship skills especially in the field of knowledge economy, and to develop cooperation in the fields of scientific research, and to cooperate in the development of educational system and training programs. Also, there are areas of cooperation between GCC and Swiss businesswomen, especially in the empowerment of Gulf women and benefiting from the support programs provided by GCC governments in forging partnerships with their Swiss counterparts.

 

8/ What are the main sectors attracting investment in the GCC countries in the coming years?

There is no doubt that the Swiss private sector has a valuable opportunity to benefit from the infrastructure projects, which were presented in the presentation I made during the meeting, such as the railway project, which is more than 2,200 kilometers and is expected to provide more than 80 thousand jobs for the GCC citizens and expatriates, as well as opportunities derived from the localization of the railway industry, and thus the Geneva Chamber can benefit from this plan for example by calling the experts in this industry to build a center for sustainability, training and rehabilitation of specialists of GCC in order to build a real railway industry. There are many opportunities in the industrial sector, in this side the Swiss investors can benefit from the opportunities offered by the Gulf Organization for Industrial Consulting (GOIC). Also Geneva Chamber of Commerce can benefit from the vision of Saudi Arabia 2020, which included many opportunities through the privatization of important sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, entertainment and tourism. Another important opportunities are available through Expo 2020 in Dubai and the importance of Switzerland's presence in this exhibition, as well as the World Cup 2022 to be organized in Doha, and other importunities in Bahrain through the Vision of the Kingdom of Bahrain 2030, which has achieved many positive results so far, in addition to industrial sectors opportunities and logistics services in the region of Duqm in the Sultanate of Oman, which is located in the most strategic areas and launched in 2008. There is the possibility to benefit as well from partnerships with the Kuwaiti private sector and the government sector through the establishment of partnership projects between the private and public sectors in Kuwait. Swiss companies can establish joint ventures in the United Arab Emirates, especially in the areas of energy, banking and various services and benefit from a large and promising market. In the Federation of Chambers we can provide more information on the investment opportunities and other related regulations and legislations.

We have an excellent and sophisticated legislative environment that is undergoing many reforms in order to facilitate the investment environment for the foreign investors.

 

9/ Can you give us an idea of ​​Swiss investments in the GCC, according to sector and type of business?

Hundreds of Swiss companies operate in GCC markets in the areas of logistics, infrastructure, hydraulic systems, groundwater and well drilling, equipment, coatings and chemicals, engineering systems for energy, water, environment, technology, hospitality, logistics, communications, banks, investment funds, pharmaceuticals, robots, machinery & export development, office & mobile rooms, power generation & industrial metal production, education, consulting & quality control, chemical products, foodstuffs, agricultural development and trade shows.

The bilateral relations in the financial and investment sector, especially in the banking field, have also developed in order to accelerate trade and to provide exporters with financial means.

 

10/ Given Switzerland's position as the world's leading economic competitiveness, how do you see cooperation between you and the Swiss side on the innovative projects and startups?

There is no doubt that the federation of the GCC will seek to cooperate with Switzerland in this particular area because of Switzerland's leadership in the field of "outputs of knowledge and technology". One of the indicators of the competitiveness of Switzerland is the number of patents it has. It has the highest patents applications per capita at the European level; this is an important filed of cooperation especially because the Gulf society is characterized by the growing number of young people and this poses a great challenge for the GCC countries. We have noticed that there are many areas of cooperation in the fields of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

It is necessary to find an incubator for such projects, and the Swiss Arab Entrepreneurs Platform (SAE) can provide their services and programs in this regard, and the mechanisms to implement them. SAE can be an incubator of ideas and initiatives of the young people and entrepreneurs from both Gulf States and Switzerland.

 

Finally, it will be our pleasure to cooperate with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of the Gulf Cooperation Council and to provide the necessary support to strengthen cooperation in the field of entrepreneurship, as spreading the culture of entrepreneurship and facilitating network are within the most important objectives of this platform, and we invite Gulf entrepreneurs and businessmen/women to join our platform to be active and discover investment opportunities, joining our platform will facilitate the link with their counterparts and the experts in entrepreneurship both in the Arab world and Switzerland.

 

 

Dans l’un de nos articles récents, nous avons discuté de la numérisation de notre société, aussi connue sous le nom de 4ème révolution industrielle. Elle se caractérise par une fusion des technologies qui brouille les lignes entre les sphères physiques, numériques et biologiques... Le phénomène transforme l'ensemble du système de production, de gestion et de gouvernement et influe même sur les notions fondamentales de marché et de commerce. Essentiellement, la 4ème révolution industrielle déforme la façon dont nous faisions affaire.

 

By Ayman Abualkhair

 

(النسخة العربية)

In one of our recent articles we discussed the digitalisation of our society, or what it is also known as, the 4th Industrial revolution. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres…The phenomenon transforms the entire system of production, management, and government, and even impinges on the basic notion of the market place and trade. Essentially, the 4th industrial revolution is shaping the entire way we do business.  

 

Switzerland is preparing itself for this upcoming industrial revolution. Even far in the Arabic peninsula, another partner who emerged from the desert is already seizing the opportunity, to transform its processes. Dubai, the city of gold, is looking forward to being a smart city with a knowledge-based economy.

 

In fact, Switzerland and UAE have several similarities. Both are strongly competitive, leaders in innovation, and are attractive for skilled people, investors, and tourism. Switzerland is a leader in terms of innovation, and it is prepared to consolidate its position in light of industrial changes.

 

Switzerland’s economic force stems from huge, innovative SMEs (about 95% of Swiss companies are SMEs) and the diversity of its economy. UAE has also managed to diversify its economy far from petrol, which dominates the economic scene in the region.

 

The cooperation between Switzerland and UAE is very strong and becoming more and more important. UAE is the first trade partner of Switzerland in the Arab world, and there are many joint projects as well. The applied science institute EPFL, for instance has a branch in UAE and Switzerland has Business Hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

 

Dubai is a place of innovation. It has six dimensions that comprise the Smart Dubai initiative. They cover Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Environment, Smart Governance, Smart People and Smart Mobility.

 

These similarities between Switzerland and UAE are very interesting when it comes to deal with the new industrial revolution. In this context we had the pleasure to interview a very dynamic personality in the economy of the region.

 

H.E. Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, enlightened us with his vision and the preparations undertaken by Dubai Chamber in order to cope with the new industrial paradigm:

 

How big is the UAE’s digital economy and where do you see the most growth potential within its e-commerce sector? (e.g. Internet of Things, 3D printing, simulation, big data and analysis, etc.)

 

Hamad Buamim: The UAE leads the Middle East in digitalisation which aligns with the National Innovation Strategy and the UAE Vision 2021. This vision identifies technology as one of the top seven primary national sectors.  Efforts are ongoing within the country’s public and private sector to fully transition towards e-Services and eventually transform into a knowledge-based economy.

Looking at progress within Dubai specifically, it’s clear that the emirate is well on its way to becoming one of the smartest cities in the world.  Innovative technologies are being utilised to improve the lives of citizens, and residents in line with the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. A recent report from Cisco and the Government of Dubai estimated that the public and private sectors stand to benefit from a AED 17.9 billion opportunity through the adoption of Internet of Everything (IoT) technology by 2020, which is critical to establishing the foundation of any global smart city.  

Several areas of the digital economy have massive potential for growth. For instance, in 2016, the UAE announced plans to develop and exploit 3D printing, with the aim of revolutionising the construction industry. The emirate’s government also recently set an ambitious target to make a quarter of all transportation driverless by 2030. Meanwhile, the government has unveiled strategic initiatives to accelerate progress in this areas, such as the Dubai Future Accelerators and the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Fund to Finance Innovation.

In addition, most government services in the UAE are now accessible via mobile devices, and the target usage rate of smart services has been increased to 80% by 2018. Beyond trade and investment, the UAE is playing an important role as a knowledge and technology hub for the wider Middle East region. Some of the world’s most innovative companies are choosing to test out their new technologies and solutions in the UAE, while many have opted to build data centres here.

 

-What is your long-term outlook for the e-commerce sectors in the UAE and GCC region?

 

Buamim: E-commerce is one of the main engines of growth that’s driving the Middle East’s digital economy. A recent report by online payment provider Payfort stated that the Middle East’s e-commerce market is set to nearly triple in value, from $25 billion in 2015 to $69 billion by 2020. Three of the region’s biggest economies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are expected to see a lot of momentum within the sector.

The UAE, which has the biggest share of the region’s e-commerce market, will see the value of its e-commerce market grow to around $10 billion by 2020 as more businesses build and expand their online presence, while new businesses in the space will create new job opportunities.  At the same time, Saudi Arabia and other GCC markets are forecast to see steady growth within this market.

Yet, there remains untapped potential in the sector amid the evolving needs of the region’s tech-savvy and predominantly young generation that is increasingly turning to Smartphone and mobile devices to shop and access services. This is not to deny that there are not challenges in this sector, but considering the growth in disposable income, fast-growing population in the GCC, and the high smartphone and Internet penetration within these markets, the long-term outlook looks quite positive.

 

-What are the biggest challenges facing this sector?

 

Buamim: Challenges and market gaps are a natural part of any fast-growing e-commerce market, especially within emerging markets.  For example, within the UAE and other Gulf countries, online spending is relatively low when compared to developed economies. This is due to a number of reasons including concerns over online payments, as well as consumers’ preference to shop at traditional malls. This means that many merchants still have to deal with cash transactions. At the same time, the high cost of logistics services such as shipping and importing products, and the lack of well-established addressing systems have created some obstacles for e-commerce players.

 

-What are the conditions for opening a company in the digital sector? Is there any aid given in this sector?

 

Buamim: The UAE has served as launch pad for some of the region’s most successful e-commerce and digital businesses such as Souq.com, Careem, and Fetchr, to name a few. The country continues to attract startups from around the region in search of new growth opportunities, and it does so by providing them with a supportive business environment that enables companies to set up with little hassle.

The government is continuously looking to new ways to support this sector and foster innovation and business growth among SMEs and startups, which remain the backbone of the country’s economy. For instance, the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030 was launched by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, to elevate Dubai into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused businesses. In addition, the AED 1 billion Dubai Future Accelerators programme was also recently launched, which is a competitive scheme that pairs government departments with innovative companies to find solutions to existing challenges.  

For its part, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry provides a wide range of e-commerce support and services for businesses in the emirate, such as a training sessions, market intelligence, our Trusted Member Label, and access to Alibaba.com, which has opened up the door for companies to expand their activities online. We have also established partnerships with local and international companies and organisations in recent years to promote knowledge sharing and accelerate progress on Smart City initiatives, with the aim of improving efficiency, competitiveness and ease of doing business in the emirate.

 

-How is Dubai Chamber supporting the emirate’s vision to become a knowledge and innovation hub for the region?

 

Buamim: As a leading representative of Dubai’s private sector, Dubai Chamber has made innovation a key focus of its 2017-2021 strategy. The Chamber is playing an active role in communicating plans and objectives of the Dubai Plan 2021 to the business community, while it’s encouraging companies to contribute more towards the emirate’s post-oil strategy.  

As part of our efforts to foster a culture of innovation within the private sector, we partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2015 to develop the Dubai Innovation Index, which covers 28 global cities and measures innovation output. The index is an important learning and development tool that enables us to see where progress is being made, as well as key areas where businesses can improve.

In the second edition of the index in 2016, Dubai improved its position and placed 15th, outperforming business hubs such as Shanghai, Moscow and Madrid. This progress was attributed to an increase in innovation-focused investments and closer cooperation between the emirate’s public and private sectors.

 

-How does the Chamber assist entrepreneurs and SMEs that want to build and expand their digital presence?

 

Buamim: We have been focusing a lot on providing the right infrastructure to support entrepreneurs in Dubai and the UAE. We firmly believe that we can enhance and expand the range of value-adding services offered to SMEs and entrepreneurs by better understanding their needs and concerns.

Tejar Dubai provides workshops and training to commercially-minded youth that gives them a unique opportunity to experience the entrepreneurial cycle and learn what it takes to start and grow a business. Participants are provided access to investment capital, mentoring and networking, allowing them to focus on establishing their own businesses.

The Chamber is working to nurture and develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem through the Dubai Startup Hub and the Dubai Smartpreneur Competition. The Smartpreneur Competition, launched in collaboration with Smart Dubai Office, has become an important platform for generating innovative ideas that support Dubai’s transition to a smart city.

The Dubai Startup Hub, established in 2016 in collaboration with IBM, connects startups, entrepreneurs, developers, venture capitalists and students, enabling them to learn about new opportunities and create new partnerships that accelerate innovation and stimulate the local economy. The hub allows the local community to interact with cloud technology in new ways, with special offers for startups to join IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Program, which provides mentoring, support and access to development tools and cloud resources via IBM Cloud. This interactive cloud environment is the first digital home for Dubai’s tech scene where virtual visitors can learn about new job opportunities and local tech news; sign up for tech-focused events, classes and meet-ups and more.

 

-Will Dubai Chamber be planning any events in the near future that focus on the digital economy and entrepreneurship?

 

Buamim: The Chamber regularly organise events and workshops, and seminars that focus on e-commerce, entrepreneurship and innovation under our various initiatives and programmes. These events provide businesses and startups with the tools, knowledge and tools they need to succeed. We are constantly looking to create more value for our members through strategic partnerships. Recently, we signed a MoU with the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce to promote innovation and IoT through mutual cooperation. We organise workshops with Alibaba to help companies get practical tips and strategic insights on how to make the most out of their presence on the platform. In addition, through our Tejar Dubai initiative, we work with other organisations, such as the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority and the Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Centre to help companies enter this arena.

Spending a full hour in the company of Souad Al Hosani, president of Nexus Business Services, is a luxury not many people can afford. The young and bubbly Emirati is always on the move, her schedule jam-packed with client meetings and events which often start at 8.00 in the morning and continue until late at night. So when we managed to grab her for a chat one late evening in downtown Dubai, we knew we had to be straight to the point.

As headlines continue to spell doom and gloom over the fallout of oil prices in the GCC, the first question that came to mind was: has investment been affected? Her answer quite simply was ‘no’.

“The UAE economy is diversified. Dubai has always been focused on tourism and services. We have a huge market for other sectors, and that’s what our 2020 Vision says – you have to focus on services not only on oil.”

Souad, whose business provides support to new investors looking to open their own firm in the UAE, says interest has been particularly high in the sectors of healthcare and education, followed by steady demand for technology and professional services in oil and gas.

Since March this this year, the number of inquiries have significantly increased, setting the stage for even busier next couple of years, with plans to open an office in Dubai by 2018 that would cater to the much-anticipated growth in the run up to World Expo 2020.

“I think there will be a lot of interest. Just think how many companies will come to town, companies from all sectors from hospitality to food and beverages to tourism and more,” she says buzzing with excitement.

Since its inception, Souad’s business has helped set up over 60 companies in seven years -- that’s almost ten a year. With time, some of the firms have done so well, they were later on acquired by larger players on the market, while others managed to attract outside investment and form new partnerships.

But setting up a business in the UAE can be a costly and time-consuming commitment. Sometimes it can take years just to get the right permit, and though rules and regulations have eased significantly in the last few years, having a local partner can prove absolutely invaluable, as Souad explains.

“The advantage of having an Emirati partner is that if I as an Emirati I was going to Switzerland, I would definitely want to have a Swiss partner going with me to explain to me the market, to connect me with his contacts, etc.

“It’s similar to you coming to the UAE and investing here. You need an Emirati who is well-connected, who will finish all the PR work, UAE visas and introduce you to clients. The UAE is very small, we all know each other. How can you do business if you don’t have contacts?”

For a foreign investor who wants to open a business in the UAE, the options are two – he can either have his firm onshore as a limited liability company or a branch office, or establish presence offshore in the so called Free Zones. Within the UAE, you need to have an onshore license to be able to register as a vendor with the government, in order to export and import, to hire employees, pay salaries, etc.

An onshore type of ownership also requires you to have an Emirati partner or a sponsor, who can be an active or a silent stakeholder. The only catch is they are entitled to half of your business. But according to Souad, there are many ways around that.

“You can design the legal documents in such a way that they don’t have any authority on the company. Within the memorandum of association, what they usually do is the Emirati partner would own 51% of the company but the foreign owner has 100% management share.

“And [the partner] can get a 10% minimum profit so the lottery would approve it, but this 10% can be a fixed fee,” she adds.

In contrast, an offshore investment allows for 100% foreign ownership, it exempts you from paying tax and has no restriction on doing more than one activity.

“Some clients need to have the company onshore, to make sure there is credibility and transparency. Usually we advise clients to set up a business offshore if they want to do business within the region but not within the UAE,” Souad explains.

“There is a good aviation district. The UAE is in where east meets west, it is the middle hub seven hours from the UK, seven hours from Bangkok.

“If clients wish to have the UAE as their hub but want to do business all over the region, then we advise them to go to a free zone,” she adds.

The UAE’s advantageous geographical location has for years served as gateway for business looking to expand into Europe and Asia, and even Africa. Currently, it houses over 37 free trade zones spread across its seven emirates. Each zone focuses on a specific sector and most importantly offers a very competitive price.

“In free zones they offer you virtual offices which means only an address where you can be licensed for AED 20,000 ($5,445), onshore it would be five times that price,” Souad explains.

For Souad a business partnership is like marriage -- she is in it for life.

“Whenever I start with a client, I marry him mentally, I provide him with all the support, I am there whenever he needs me.” But just like in marriage, trust plays a key role and “you don’t want that marriage to end up in a divorce,” she says jokily.

About the interviewee:

Souad M. Al Hosani is the president of Nexus Business Services. She received her Bachelor degree in Human Resource Management from the higher colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi. Her previous work experiences includes Mubadala Development Company , the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Finance Department, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, and Amwal Holdings, all of which have enabled her to improve her knowledge and understanding of business activities in different sectors and environments throughout the UAE. Souad is the recipient of a United Nations Industrial Development Organization certificate for successful completion of a capacity building program for women entrepreneurs. Additionally, she has successfully completed the Intilaaqah public speaking programme on behalf of Shell-Abu Dhabi. In 2013, Souad was awarded as the youngest achievers award by the American Chamber of Commerce in Abu Dhabi. In 2015, Souad was awarded the best female service provider in the UAE.

Masdar: A Prime Pioneer

19 Feb 2016 Written by

Exclusive Interview

The Middle East’s CO2 emissions posted the fastest growth rate of any other region in 2014. With environmental regulations getting ever more stringent, now’s the time to act.

The Paris Climate Talks that took place between November 30 and December 11, 2015 brought climate change back into the spotlight, and with it, the role of renewable energy in tackling the problem. The International Renewable Energy Agency suggests that doubling the global share of renewable energy by 2030 would provide half the emission reductions needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, while energy efficiency measures could provide the rest.

Generating power and electricity in a more environmentally efficient and sustainable manner is increasingly gaining traction in countries in the Middle East. Companies like Masdar, a pioneer in the field, and frontrunner in the race to become a regional powerhouse in renewables, are constantly investing in new projects and technologies that both challenge and improve commercial energy production.

 

London-Array-Turbines

The UAE government has been actively seeking to promote the use of greener energy across the country, and Dr Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, firmly believes that renewable energy will continue to grow in prominence in the region.

“The issue of climate change and rising global temperatures is perhaps more salient here in the Middle East than anywhere else on the planet. For many years, climate action was synonymous with sacrifice. It was a matter of what countries and individuals would have to “give up” to reduce emissions and save the planet.”

She added: “Now, thanks in part to the growing business case for renewable energy and its centrality in the climate solution, climate action is increasingly being seen as a means to grow, stimulate the economy and improve livelihoods.

One of the factors to consider when talking about renewable energy, Hosany suggests, is the falling cost of technology used to generate cleaner energy.

“Falling technology costs are making the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy cost-neutral, while also creating jobs, boosting GDP growth, driving business and reducing emissions,” she said.

 

The role of sustainability in cleaner energy development is rapidly growing, but so are the challenges surrounding it, as Hosany explains.

“The energy choices we make in the next few years will determine the nature of the climate we will experience in our lifetime, and the kind of world we will leave for our children and future generations. Masdar is a reflection of the UAE leadership’s awareness that yesterday’s models cannot and will not provide a sustainable future for the people of the UAE. Since 2006, the company has invested over $1.7bn and already delivered on 1GW of renewable power projects around the world.”

As someone who’s spent decades in the field, Hosany admits that lack of awareness on sustainability can sometimes act as a barrier, but where there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity and that’s exactly the kind of approach that Masdar’s been taking over the years.

“There is a need to raise awareness on adopting and incorporating basic sustainability practices across the region and beyond – from domestic to corporate adoption. Sustainability can be incorporated in organisations throughout the entire supply chain; it also adds significant cost savings through resource management,” Mr Hosany says.

 

Since its inception in 2006, Masdar has grown into a multi-million dollar company and a worldwide recognised brand.

It currently owns an impressive 1.5GW of renewable power projects in various global locations, both in operation and under development. Its biggest international investment at present includes the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the 630MW London Array in the Thames Estuary, UK. The company also owns 35% share in the planned Dudgeon offshore wind farm in Britain, which is being developed with its Norwegian partners Statoil and Statkraft.

The Abu Dhabi based company recently told local media it aims to double its projects portfolio in the next ten years. In the Middle East, one of its key investments is the Tafila Wind Farm in Jordan, the first utility-scale wind farm commissioned in the region. The $238 million project is capable of producing 117MW of electricity, delivering 400GWh of electricity annually and displacing 235,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions. With Morocco vowing to have 52% of its energy come from renewables by 2030, the market will be a key focus for the UAE’s flagship developer.

 

Tafila-wind-farm-in-Jordan

The company also plans to produce a staggering 1,500 m3/day of potable water over the next 15 months through its desalination programme in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, by using four specially designed technologies from four different companies. Ultimately, it aims for the large-scale deployment and implementation of one or more of these energy-efficient desalination technologies in the UAE and potentially across the wider Middle East and North Africa region, as well as internationally.

Another of its ground-breaking projects, the 100MW Shams 1 facility in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, which is also the largest concentrated solar power plant of its kind, can reduce CO₂ emission by up to 175,000 tonnes annually. Through GE’s Ecomagination 2020 Partnership, Masdar is working on implementing the first complete energy-neutral wastewater treatment process in the region.

The company has also increased its collaboration with local and international partners and foreign investment banks offering cash for green energy projects. In 2013, it signed a deal with the UK’s Green Investment Bank, while its Pacific Partnership Fund, a $50 million initiative, continues to deliver grant-funded renewable energy projects across four nations in the Pacific island.

Masdar, which started as a $15 billion initiative to diversify Abu Dhabi’s energy mix, today owns a designated capital investment fund for new investments and acquisitions abroad. It typically targets $15 million to $50 million in private equity for companies whose commercial revenue is at least $10 million. Geographically, its focus is mainly on mature markets like Europe and North America, but stretches far beyond to locations as remote as the Seashells and Fiji islands.

In the meantime, one of its pivotal projects, Masdar City – an eco-friendly urban development in the eastern parts of Abu Dhabi, is attracting foreign investment in the UAE and a growing number of private sector players. Slated to be the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city, Masdar City is fast becoming a growing business haven for innovative tech start-ups, urban development planners, sustainability entrepreneurs and energy saving products and service providers.

 

Though in its early stages and the first of its eight neighbourhoods still under development, multinationals like Siemens have already made the CIty home to its Middle East operations. The structure it inhabits is the first LEED Platinum building to open in Abu Dhabi, while its “box-within-a-box” design contributes to an energy savings of about 63% compared to conventional office buildings in the emirate. Siemens also claims a 52% water savings for the building.

Investment in research and development is absolutely essential in all fields, and arguably, even more so in renewables. As one of the region’s primary advocate on new energy economy, Masdar’s approach on R&D appears to be both integrated and commercially driven. It combines higher education with scientific research, while also working to achieve collaboration with the private sector. At the core of Masdar City is the Masdar Institute of Science & Technology (MI) – an independent, research-driven university dedicated to advancing renewable energy and sustainable technologies, which is continuously looking for ways to collaborate with the private sector.

 

“We really see Masdar City as a “living laboratory” for low-energy use, low-carbon, low-waste technologies that can be piloted on site. Masdar City’s role is to create knowledge that diversifies the UAE economy, as well as to be the place where you build a community of innovation and research.”

Sustainable urban development is another area of investment, where Masdar’s been increasingly concentrating its efforts.

“We are on a mission to build the world’s most sustainable city,” states Al Hosany, her words both inspiring and visionary, hoping to shape, influence and transform perceptions on urban development not only in the Middle East, but worldwide.

 

“We consider Masdar proof of concept for a global sustainable city – if we can make sustainability work in the harshest climate in the world, than surely cityscapes around the globe can be adapted to meet the needs of the future. Masdar City is guided by the three principles of sustainability – economic, environmental and social,” says Al Hosany.

Higher penetration of renewable technologies with their variable generation characteristics will require many fundamental changes in the way that electric power systems are planned and operated to maintain reliable service and to do so economically, Ms Hosany explains.

“There are challenges in developing renewable generation technologies, such as further reducing the capital costs and improving energy efficiencies of the various types of renewable resources, such as wind, solar PV, solar thermal, and tidal.”

 

The sector is in dire need of meaningful and thought-provoking programmes to further the development of large-scale energy storage technologies, which remain significantly underexploited.

As Ms Hosany rightly points out: “To seamlessly integrate renewable resources in the grid, research and development must address challenges that high penetration levels will have in power system planning and operation, and in grid connection.”

Consistent regulatory and pricing regimes, another grey area that often gets neglected by decision-makers and industry leaders alike, is deterring investment and discouraging the pursuit of innovative-thinking among researchers.

 

“While the cost of renewables has declined to a level comparable with other energy sources, the lack of a level playing field in some countries when it comes to subsidies, taxes and regulations, inhibits the adoption of clean energy solutions.

“It is also harder to attract inward investment when governments don’t have a policy framework that allows investors to make long-term plans. To a lesser extent energy storage and grid management are also challenges.”

 

But none of these ground-breaking projects would have been possible without the help and technological knowhow of conglomerates with decades of experience in developing innovative, ground-breaking technologies like GE, Siemens, Schneider and Samsung on the one hand, and small and medium enterprises, service providers and product developers, on the other.

Without doubt, the company is en route to grow in size and bring more glory to the region. But to do so it will need help from viable and trustworthy partners capable of creating innovation that not only leads to new ideas but also has commercial application in the world, making a difference to people’s lives.

Propos recueillis par Ayman Abualkhair

 

Lors d'un concours organisé en février dernier à Dubaï, Mohammed ben Rachid Al Maktoum, vice-président et premier ministre des Emirats arabes unis a attribué un million de dollars à l'entreprise vaudoise Flyability pour son drone Gimball, choisi parmi une quarantaine de projets de drone à vocation humanitaire ou sociale. Interview avec le co-fondateur de Flyability, Patrick Thévoz:

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Propos recueillis par Ayman Abualkhair

Solstis, bureau d'étude, de réalisation et de commercialisation de l'énergie voltaïque, est l'une des entreprises les plus pointues en matière d'énergie solaire en Suisse. Elle a largement contribué au développement du marché dans le pays. Aujourd'hui, elle apporte son expertise et ses services aux marchés d'Afrique du Nord et du Moyen Orient. Rencontre avec Jacques Bonvin, co-fondateur.                                           

Solstis est née en 1996, de l'association de deux chercheurs au laboratoire de l’Energie Solaire et de Physique du Bâtiment de l'EPFL, Jacques Bonvin et Pascal Voltaire. Alors chargés de l’installation de panneaux photovoltaïques sur les immeubles de l'EPFL, les deux ingénieurs travaillent sur un système qui permettrait une intégration "esthétique" des panneaux solaires, perçus de manière plutôt négative à l'époque. Comme de coutume dans le monde académique, leurs travaux ont donné lieu à diverses publications. Mais c'est pour répondre aux besoins similaires d'autres sociétés que les deux compères décident d'acheter les droits de développement de ces systèmes, et de créer leur propre entreprise d'étude pour assurer la commercialisation des panneaux photovoltaïques. L’EPFL a soutenu les deux associés en leur permettant de développer leurs prestations tout en conservant un emploi à mi-temps en tant que chercheurs. Mandatée ensuite par la Confédération pour assurer le développement de ce type d’énergie en Suisse romande dès l'apparition des bourses solaires dans les années 2000, Solstis a pu rapidement élargir sa clientèle et développer son expertise. Aujourd'hui, la société emploie 45 employés fixes et 15 temporaires, sert de nombreux clients en Suisse comme en Allemagne, et bientôt au Moyen orient et en Afrique du Nord, pour un chiffre d’affaire annuel de 30 millions de francs.

A.A.: Quelle est la place de la Suisse dans l’industrie photovoltaïque ?

J.B: Jusqu'en 2000, la Suisse était le numéro un mondial de l’énergie photovoltaïque, avec le plus mètres carrés posés par habitant. Notre société a d'ailleurs joué un rôle clé dans la création du marché photovoltaïque helvétique! Le cadre législatif a largement conditionné ce résultat, notamment en raison du vote populaire de 1999 imposant un moratoire sur le nucléaire pour 10 ans. Les investissements ont été gelés, mais la recherche dans le domaine des énergies renouvelables a parallèlement été favorisée: les contributions suisses étaient très attendues lors des symposiums internationaux. L'Allemagne a rapidement suivi avec une loi appelée "Aparei Energie Gezeit" (AEG), introduisant le fameux « Feed-in-Tarif», c'est-à-dire un prix d’achat fixe pour l’énergie renouvelable garanti sur une certaine période, afin d’encourager les fournisseurs à produire. Cette mesure s'inspirait initialement d'une initiative suisse introduite à Burgdorf, près de Berne, en 1992 (le Burgdorf Model, à 1.20 CHF/ kWh). Mais suite au refus populaire de généraliser la règle à tout le pays, la Suisse s'est finalement laissée devancer par l’Allemagne!

A.A.: Quelles sont les prestations fournies par Solstis exactement?

J.B.: Solstis fournit pratiquement l'ensemble des services dans la chaine de production d'énergie photovoltaïque. Cela va de la fabrication des cellules et des modules, à l’installation, au financement et à l’exploitation des centrales, en passant par l’extraction de En Suisse, nous assurons l'installation de projets allant de 10 à 10'000 m2, au niveau international les projets sont toujours d'envergure. L'activité principale de la société reste cependant la distribution, grâce aux vastes réseaux qu’elle possède en Suisse et en France, surtout depuis le moratoire nucléaire de 2006. Sans surprise, pour la fabrication des panneaux, les chinois qui détiennent la grande part du marché, avec un produit sur dix qui vient de la Chine, en raison des coûts de production et des prix donc, dix fois moins chers. Mais ceci vaut plutôt pour les grosses centrales, car les particuliers, eux, préfèrent les produits suisses ou européens, dont la qualité est plus constante. Nous utilisons le cristalline -mono ou poli- à base de silicium, qui représente actuellement près de 95% du marché. Il existe bien une technologie alternative dite "couche mince" sur le marché suisse, mais son rendement est deux fois inférieur au cristalline. Pour équiper une maison familiale de cette technologie raffinée, il faut compter entre 10 et 15'000 francs suisses.

A.A.: Vous offrez maintenant vos services en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen Orient. Quelles sont vos prestations sur ces marchés?

J.B.: Solstis était principalement active en Suisse et en Allemagne, mais depuis deux ans, nous avons souhaité diversifier nos investissements et avons étendu nos activités au Moyen orient et en Afrique du Nord. Sur la base de notre réseau personnel, assez fourni, nous avons déjà réalisé plusieurs projets au Liban, au Soudan, au Kuwait, et venons d'ouvrir « Solstis Tunisie » à Tunis. Dans les pays arabes, nous n'employons pas un modèle rigide mais restons ouverts à toutes propositions. Vu l'étendue de nos services, distribution, engineering et financement de projets, nous sommes en mesure d'apporter notre expertise et notre savoir-faire pour toutes les phases de projets photovoltaïques, qu'il s'agisse d'analyser les besoins et effectuer les calculs, de planifier la réalisation d'installation, ou simplement de livrer des matériaux.

A.A.: Comment voyez-vous l’avenir de l’énergie photovoltaïque dans le monde Arabe?

J.B.: Solstis travaille depuis deux dans le monde arabe, avec de grands projets qui ont pour objectif d’injecter le courant vert dans les réseaux. Nous observons une prise de conscience très rapide quant au fait que l'on peut plus imaginer extraire du pétrole indéfiniment pour produire de l'électricité. Certains ont également compris le potentiel existant à produire localement de l'électricité grâce au solaire et réduire la consommation endogène de pétrole, pour favoriser plutôt l'exportation de ce carburant. L'Afrique du Nord et le Moyen Orient représentent un marché gigantesque, avec une diversité remarquable entre les pays. Bien que les pays ne soient pas homogènes, il existe une similarité dans les besoins. Par exemple, l'une des particularités dans ces régions est la présence importante de poussière, un facteur qui réduit l’efficacité des installations. Pour gérer cette caractéristique, nous proposons des verres autonettoyants. Nous réalisé des projets tant au Koweït, qu'en Arabie Saoudite, au Soudan, au Liban, en Tunisie et en Algérie. À terme, nous souhaitons collaborer avec les partenaires arabes pour assurer un transfert de savoir-faire dans ce domaine. Vu notre taille, nous souhaiterions nous focaliser sur une région pour assurer une coopération plus dense et tracer ensemble le chemin vers un avenir énergétique prometteur.

A.A.: Pourquoi choisir le solaire?

J.B.: Plusieurs facteurs incitent les utilisateurs à opter pour le solaire en Suisse, et parmi eux sans doute une volonté de produire sa propre électricité, de manière plus propre, comme le recommandent les principes du développement durable. Une option largement soutenue par des subventions ou des mesures fiscales, qui renforcent la motivation des utilisateurs. Les producteurs industriels quant à eux, y gagnent aussi grâce au tarif de rachat garanti par la Confédération, qui favorise l’investissement sur le long terme. Par ailleurs, le coût de production de l'énergie ne cesse de baisser, c'est l'une des caractéristiques de marché photovoltaïque. Aujourd'hui, le prix ne représente que 10% de celui d'il y a vingt ans. Concernant le facteur climatique, si des différences de rendement existent entre les régions géographiques, il est possible de produire de l’énergie photovoltaïque malgré un taux d’ensoleillement très bas. D'ailleurs, si nous arrivions à stocker l’énergie solaire que la terre reçoit pendant une demi-heure nous pourrions satisfaire les besoins en électricité pour toute l’humanité pendant une année! Mais les freins à l’énergie solaire existent, notamment en raison des grands projets d’investissements dans les énergies fossiles ou le nucléaire: Le basculement vers l’énergie renouvelable implique un changement de modèle. Car au-delà de l’énergie, il y a un choix fait par les humains. Plus concrètement, pour promouvoir l’énergie renouvelable il faut décentraliser la production électrique. Enfin l’énergie renouvelable demande une responsabilisation à la fois chez les producteurs et chez les consommateurs.

A.A: L’énergie photovoltaïque est-elle vraiment écologique? On parle d’énergie grise du fait que des substances toxiques entrent dans la fabrication des cellules photovoltaïque?

J.B.: Cela varie selon l’altitude en fait! En Europe, il faudrait compter entre une année et deux ans pour produire l’électricité nécessaire à la fabrication des panneaux solaires. Au niveau de recyclage, 95% des cellules photovoltaïques est constitué de verre agrémenté d'un peu d’argent et d’aluminium. La quantité de substance chimique est donc très minime, sachant qu’une taxe de recyclage est imposée sur chaque panneau.

A.A.: Qu'en est-il de la problématique du stockage de l'énergie photovoltaïque?

J.B.: Pour une meilleure utilisation de l’énergie photovoltaïque, un système de stockage efficace est en effet primordial. Actuellement, des possibilités existent grâce à des batteries. Cette technologie est en plein développement, comme l'était la fabrication des cellules photovoltaïques il y a vingt ans, et est fort prometteuse.

A.A.: A votre avis, y a-t-il compétition entre l’énergie renouvelable et l’énergie fossile ?

J.B.: Pas vraiment, car elles sont complémentaires! A long terme il n’y aura plus d’énergie fossile, chacun le sait, l’avenir est donc pour l’énergie renouvelable. Quant au prix de l’électricité, il varie d’une région à l'autre, comme le prix du pétrole. Le prix de l’énergie solaire s'avère parfois même compétitif par rapport à celui de l’énergie fossile, notamment grâce au « Feed-in-tarif». Dans les endroits isolés, éloignés des centrales de production électrique traditionnelle, le voltaïque est également plus avantageux. Les projets dits « Fuel saving » constituent un autre exemple intéressant: les génératrices d’électricité qui utilisent le pétrole installent des photovoltaïques pour économiser la consommation de l’énergie fossile. Si le développement des énergies renouvelables en Suisse a été possible grâce au subventionnement public, aujourd'hui je considère que l’énergie photovoltaïque est compétitive sans même cette subvention.

A.A.: Est-ce que l’ouverture du marché électrique est une condition pour le développement de l’énergie photovoltaïque?

J.B.: Non. Je rappelle que le peuple suisse s’est opposé à l’ouverture de marché électrique, parce qu'il considère que l’électricité est un bien public essentiel à la population et souhaite donc en conserver le contrôle total. Or, nous savons que libérer le marché électrique engendre un changement de paradigme, qui favorise la production dans un but unique de profit, avec des effets environnementaux considérables. Par ailleurs, la libération du marché ne conduit pas forcément à une baisse des prix: en Suisse par exemple, les prix sont déjà bas.

A.A.:Quelle est votre perception de la culture des affaires dans le monde arabe?

J.B.: Je pense qu'il faut prendre plus de temps dans les pays Arabes qu’on Suisse, car le relationnel et les contacts avec les partenaires potentiels exigent un investissement. Mais une fois une relation solide établie, il est alors plus facile de réaliser des projets.

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