Energy trees at Expo 2020 Dubai captured energy from the sun like sunflowers throughout the day. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Within the first week, Expo 2020 had set the tone for global action around energy sustainability. Days after the event’s inauguration came the launch of the UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative, a national drive aimed at cutting carbon emissions to zero.

With an initial investment of Dh600 billion into renewable energy, the country became the first major Gulf oil producer to commit to decarbonising its economy at a critical moment for climate change and for our survival.

The magnitude of the task requires partnerships between nations and between the public and private sectors, a message reinforced at Expo 2020 ahead of the UAE’s hosting of COP28, the 28th UN global climate talks in 2023.

From high-level agreements to grassroots innovations, sustainability in the energy sector has resonated across the largest world expo to date.

“Hailed as the world’s meeting place, Expo 2020 has provided a platform to convene climate and energy leaders to exchange ideas and knowledge to address pressing global challenges,” says Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, UAE Permanent Representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

IRENA’s Expo events focused on the energy transition, including renewable energy policies, youth leadership and barriers to financing green projects.

As Dr Al-Hosany noted, the setting provided the stage for countries, international entities and organisations to boost collaboration on sustainable energy.

Deals and agreements

As a standout example, the UAE and France agreed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to support developing countries to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and increase their support to IRENA and the International Solar Alliance.

The UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure agreed an MoU with Israel’s Ministry of Energy at Israel’s pavilion at Expo 2020 to strengthen relations in the energy sector.

Elsewhere, a Ugandan delegation signed deals worth more than $650 million at the event, including investments into renewable energy projects, the country’s investment authority said.

Meanwhile, UAE entities ADNOC and Taqa joined forces with Mubadala to become shareholders in Masdar. The deal creates one of the largest clean energy companies globally with an overall portfolio of 50GW renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Energy touches every area

Over the six months, conferences and events highlighted how energy underpins every aspect of our lives.

In January, a transport panel saw experts explain how carbon emissions can be reduced by gradually shifting to hydrogen, renewable energy and electric vehicles. At the end of March, the Water Business Forum analysed the relationship between water and energy.

Focus on innovation

For their part, country representations showcased new ideas and developments, challenging visitors to rethink energy use.

At the Netherlands Pavilion, a vertical farm and irrigation water harvested from the air showed how experimental green solutions can address the interconnected issues of water scarcity, energy transition and food security.

During Energy and Environment Week last month, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) showed how new technologies can generate electricity, a concept referred to as Energy 4.0.

Businesses too used the moment to bring people together in service of common energy ambitions.

The UAE energy major ENOC, for instance, gave over 100,000 visitors a look at a reimagined energy future using ultra-haptic technology, kinetic installations and interactive projections at its pavilion.

“We foresee the energy sector adopting a greener model with a strong focus on innovative sustainable alternatives to traditional operations with renewable energy and natural gas at the forefront of the focus,” says Saif Humaid Al Falasi, Group CEO at ENOC.

“Today, service stations in the energy sector can be sustainable, which we have demonstrated through the Service Station of the Future that uses multiple sources of energy, from solar to wind turbine as well as traditional hydrocarbon sources.”

Energy conglomerate GE was among those seeking to foster innovative thinking. Its Spotlight Tomorrow summit in November looked at the future of energy, aviation and healthcare. In December, GE teamed with non-profit organisation INJAZ to host female students at an event focused on finding solutions to challenges around the energy transition.

“Expo 2020 brought the world together at a time when we collectively needed to find innovative, yet sustainable, solutions to solve global challenges. Over the last six months, many critical discussions and partnerships have taken place, signalling strong optimism and confidence in the country’s energy transition and power sector,” says Dr Dalya Al Muthanna, President of GE in the UAE and the global Chief of Strategy and Operations for GE International Markets.

“Solving the climate change challenge requires cooperation across national boundaries, across sectors of the economy, and across the political spectrum. Expo 2020 was a great platform to do so, addressing the energy trilemma of sustainability, affordability, and reliability, ” she adds.

Hands-on experience

Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion, drew attention with 12,000 sqm of photovoltaic panels on its recycled-steel roof. Nearby, ‘energy trees’ showed how solar infrastructure is evolving.

Expo 2020 has shown what is possible. Now UAE and global authorities must capitalise on the momentum. “We are using our platform as a convener of major global dialogues to work in close collaboration with the international community to pave the way for a more sustainable future,” Dr Al-Hosany says.