World Future Energy Summit Kicks Off in Abu Dhabi

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In Abu Dhabi, the richest city on the planet, life is good. The average per capita worth here is around $17 million, and business continues to boom. So it is perhaps surprising that this small emirate, which sits on top of one tenth of the world's oil, should be interested in renewable energy, of all things.

But they are interested, very interested. In fact, the country's leadership has made a strategic decision to invest enormous amounts of money and effort into building a whole new sector of the economy from scratch, based on renewable energy technologies. The leaders of this country understand that, regardless of how much oil remains to be pulled out of the ground, renewable energy is the future.

The second annual World Future Energy Summit, which kicked off yesterday, is part of that strategy. Some 15,000 delegates are here this week for the high powered, three-day conference, which will explore current and future options for renewable energy technologies, and strategies for their implementation. Also on display is Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's futuristic ecological city project, and a testing ground for many of the ideas being discussed here.With 30 governments and over 300 companies represented here, along with over 400 members of the local and international media, Abu Dhabi is hoping to cement its reputation as a global leader in the field of renewables. Topics on the agenda include the entire range of renewable energy technologies, as well as the economic and policy aspects of promoting sustainable power generation. Big name guests include Tony Blair, IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and a host of government ministers and royals from around the world.

WFES exhibition hall photo

The entire event is being hosted by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company's Masdar Initiative, which defines itself as "a global cooperative platform for the open engagement in the search for solutions to some of mankind's most pressing issues: energy security, climate change and the development of human expertise in sustainability." Masdar is building Masdar City here as a prototype for sustainable living and economy, as well as an entire spectrum of renewable energy projects in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere.

All of this is taking place in the shadow of the world financial crisis, and the hosts have been patiently fielding question after question about how the crisis will affect their plans. Dubai, Abu Dhabi's neighbor to the north, is suffering a serious slowdown in its development, and this week it was reported that the crisis has cost Arab nations $2.5 trillion and seriously affected 60% of the Gulf's development projects. Despite this, the Masdar Initiative's people insist that their plans are still on track, and have even suggested that the crisis has made Masdar City more attractive to investors and companies, due to a lack of business opportunities elsewhere.

The language spoken here is undoubtedly the language of business. The delegates to this gathering are not environmentalists, they are businesspeople, with varying levels of environmental commitment. However, they all seem to realize that renewable energy is an excellent business opportunity, and much of the discussion revolves around how to create the optimum climate for investing in sustainable enterprises.

Watch for more updates from the World Future Energy Summit this week on TreeHugger.

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