The Zayed Future Energy Prize is $2.2 million equivalent of a Nobel Prize for clean, sustainable energy recognizing individuals, non-profits, and companies that are doing the most to commercialize and distribute renewable energy to replace fossil fuels and cut pollution.
There are two remarkable things about this prize: It is sponsored by an oil-rich government in the Middle East; and the six finalists in 2011 include this author.
Yes, I was humbled to be nominated for the prize that will be awarded next January 18th, possibly to join the company of the first winner of the prize in 2009, Dipal Chandra Barua. Barua was honored for bringing renewable energy to over two million people in rural communities of Bangladesh. In 2010, Toyota was honored for its groundbreaking innovations in efficient transportation and alternative fuels like hydrogen fuel cells.
In 2011, the finalists include the MacArthur “genius” award-winning Amory Lovins for his cutting-edge work on designing energy-efficient buildings; the Barefoot College, India’s only institution that runs entirely on solar power and provides it to low-income families across the country; Arizona’s First Solar, the fastest-growing solar-panel manufacturer in the world; the New Jersey-based investment firm E+Co, which supports clean energy development projects throughout the developing world; and Denmark's Vestas, the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines.
Although I am still uncertain how my work to make California a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy commercialization ranks with those luminaires, I’m more mystified by the fact that the heart of the Middle Eastern oil patch is promoting a quicker end of fossil fuel use.
Abu Dhabi is one of the seven United Arab Emirates and has sponsored Masdar, a sustainable city rising from the desert to prove that zero-waste and zero carbon emissions are possible in a modern metropolis.
Masdar, which also sponsors the annual World Future Energy Summit, is becoming a global proving ground for clean energy technologies and green urban development that will help to commercialize those designs and products for everyone to use, and the Zayed Future Energy Prize is meant to recognize those who are contributing to that vision.
But why would Abu Dhabi and Masdar do this, given that their wealth comes from oil? Because their leaders have recognized that oil is running out, the world is running out of a healthy atmosphere, and the geopolitics of oil are equally unsustainable for much longer. Those leaders, beginning with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi and the founder of the United Arab Emirates, wisely want to leverage their current wealth into long-term growth and sustainability for their people and an energy-hungry world.