Suhail Al Mazrouei Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: Ask the UAE’s Minister of Energy what really worries him, and his answer isn’t oil prices, or the glut in the oil market, or even whether demand for oil will ever pick up. His answer is: water.

Suhail Al Mazroui, the UAE’s Minister of Energy and Industry, believes the country’s biggest challenge for the next generations is water security, and more needs to be done to address that.

“We have produced a strategy for water, but I think we need to do much, much more. We need to reduce our consumption of water. It’s ridiculous [how much] we consume,” he said on Tuesday.

“Water is what worries me. We need to decouple power generation from desalination. Today we burn gas to desalinate. That doesn’t make sense. Economically, it doesn’t make sense, and environmentally, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We need to refrain from doing that and go to reverse osmosis or other new technologies that we’re trying like forward osmosis.”

Al Mazroui in late 2017 announced a water security strategy to ensure sustainable access to water and to reduce demand for water resources.

Speaking at the Global Leaders Forum in Dubai, the Minister said that there is a need for the UAE to reduce its overall energy demand by around 40 per cent by 2050.

On top of that, he stressed the importance of having renewables such as solar and nuclear energy in the energy mix. He does not think fossil fuel or coal will go away, though, but will instead be made cleaner.

In an on-stage interview, Al Mazroui also discussed the announcement from Bahrain earlier this week that it discovered a shale oil resource, representing the country’s largest discovery of oil since 1932.

“Definitely all the GCC countries have enormous reserves of shale as they have reservoirs. I think the potential for shale oil in the UAE and in the region is enormous, but it’s timing; first you finish the cheaper and the more reasonable to produce hydrocarbons, and then you go to shale — you don’t do it the other way around,” he said.

“For us, gas is of more interest. We are a net importer of gas and we would like to balance that equation through incentivising more investments [so] the UAE has enough to satisfy demand and even have enough to export.”

Speaking on the overall oil market, Al Mazroui told reporters that the market is recovering, and that he thinks 2018 is the year of rebalancing supply and demand. He said the deal between Opec and other oil producers to cut production has removed 85 per cent of the problem of over-supply.

He also welcomed the idea of long-term cooperation between Opec (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and Russia to balance the oil market, saying that Russia is “a critical member of this consortium.”