Dr. TieJun Zhang, a faculty member of the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department at Masdar Institute, has returned from an official visit to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) headquarters in Vienna on 15 May, where he was invited to lead a workshop that explored ongoing areas of energy cooperation between China and the UAE.

Dr. Zhang delivered a presentation titled, “South-South Energy Cooperation along the Silk Road: A China-UAE Case Study,” highlighting some of the strategic China-UAE collaborations that have significantly bolstered the UAE’s sustainable and diversified energy development over the past decade. The presentation also explored how the two nations could build on their mutually-cooperative relationship for more dynamic partnerships and research opportunities that will lead to the development of innovative solutions needed to keep the UAE on track towards achieving its sustainable energy goals – which include generating 44% of its energy from clean sources by 2050 – and the UN on track towards achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states are expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years and include goals such as securing affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and building resilient infrastructure.

Dr. Zhang’s workshop was the second in a series of workshops, titled “South-South and Triangular Industrial Cooperation (SSTIC) Mainstream Workshop Series,” designed to facilitate the mainstreaming of SSTIC, which was established under UNIDO as a form of technical cooperation between and among Southern countries to promote their sustainable industrial development. The workshop was attended by many UN officials from UNIDO, including Philippe Scholtès, UNIDO Managing Director of Programme Development and Technical Cooperation (PTC), who expressed great interest in Masdar Institute’s role in supporting clean energy cooperation across all developing countries.

“The cutting-edge technology and human capital developed at Masdar Institute have practical applications in the UAE and in China, and are of great interest to UNIDO. As UNIDO operates in over 100 emerging and developing countries, we can extract the relevant lessons learnt from the active cooperation between Masdar Institute and China to empower all of our member states,” Scholtès shared.

“Dr. Zhang’s workshop has contributed to a growing stream of successful cooperation between the UAE and UNIDO, including through the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi from 27-30 March 2017, and my own recent discussion with Dr. Nawal Al Hosany, Executive Director, Sustainability & Brand of Masdar Company at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York in early April 2017,” he added.

Dr. Zhang spent his early life in China, where he witnessed first-hand the benefits of international cooperation. Now, as a professor and five-year resident of Abu Dhabi, he is eager to promote stronger international cooperation between the two nations he calls home.
“Energy cooperation between the UAE and China will enhance both countries’ abilities to achieve sustainable industrial development, which will in turn in bring greater prosperity and economic growth to China, UAE and the whole Arab region,” Dr. Zhang said.

Looking to China and UAE’s traditional oil and gas cooperation, which have resulted in notable partnerships on energy trading and technological products, Dr. Zhang makes the case for promoting stronger clean energy cooperation through collaborations between the two nations in cost-effective solar power technologies, high-efficiency communications technologies, clean water production, and carbon capture and utilization, among other potential collaboration areas.

“This case study sheds light on a new pathway of south-south energy cooperation for achieving global sustainable development goals,” Dr. Zhang explained. He compares the national innovation and reform strategies of the two countries, revealing the potential opportunities and challenges of China-UAE clean energy cooperation.

One partnership Dr. Zhang highlighted that demonstrates the two countries’ existing clean energy cooperation is between China’s JinkoSolar and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA). JinkoSolar is a key partner selected to build the world’s largest single-site solar facility in Abu Dhabi, which will generate 1.17 GW of solar power and is expected to be complete by April 2019. JinkoSolar secured this tender by submitting a bid to supply the electrical power at a record-low 2.42 US cents per kilowatt hour, demonstrating the game-changing and disruptive potential of China’s clean energy generation technologies.

In the area of clean transportation, China-based BYD, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles, launched a strategic partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Clean Energy Company Masdar in 2016 to commercialize clean transport and battery storage systems in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City. BYD also won the ‘Large Corporation’ category of the UAE-based Zayed Future Energy Prize.
Dr. Zhang also highlighted some pioneering research collaborations between Masdar Institute and world-class research institutes in China, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to enhance sustainability and efficiency of critical clean energy and cooling related technologies that have significant industrial relevance to the UAE.

Finally, Dr. Zhang noted the strategic collaborations being undertaken between China and the UAE to strengthen cooperation on education and human resources development, citing the agreement signed in 2015 between Masdar Institute and Tsinghua University for a faculty and student exchange program to support transformative sustainability research and enrich student learning experiences.

“The agreements aimed at supporting the development of the most valuable source of capital there is – human capital – will be instrumental in advancing the technology-based solutions and policies needed for the sustainable development of the UAE, China and the wider world,” Dr. Zhang said.

Citing the ancient Arab proverb that instructs people to “seek knowledge even unto China,” Dr. Zhang believes that China, which is perhaps the most rapidly developing nation in regard to innovation, has much to offer the UAE in its mission to become one of the most innovative nations in the world. And similarly, the UAE, which has already been ranked the most innovative Arab nation in the 2016 Global Innovation Index, will continue to be a strategic partner for China, especially in the clean energy sector. By working together, China and UAE will not only benefit themselves, but set a formidable example for other Southern nations aiming to collaborate for resilient and sustainable industrial development.
Overcoming the challenges to a more robust China-UAE cooperation, which are environmental, financial and social in nature, is just a small speedbump on this prosperous and promising collaborative journey, Dr. Zhang believes.

“The emerging energy cooperation between the two countries has set a great example for south-south cooperation, and has set the perfect stage for even stronger cooperation in the future. I hope that my cast study has made that clear,” Dr. Zhang said.