Green opportunities abound in the desert
This week saw a double 'greening' of the Middle East. Not only did WETEX, a global cleantech trade exhibition, take place in Dubai, but a number of Irish companies travelled to participate in it. Cleantech is the collective term for businesses operating in areas such as water and waste water treatment, renewable energy, technology and the environment.
It's a sector that is growing in importance as the world shifts its focus from fossil fuels to renewable ones, not just in Europe and other developed regions, but right across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
The Gulf countries which surround the United Arab Emirates are, of course, a major source of fossil fuels, but they too are embracing cleantech. The UAE has made energy efficiency, and in particular green buildings, a priority in its National Energy Strategy 2050, while Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 outlines the kingdom's commitment to diversifying its energy portfolio for a cleaner future.
For Irish cleantech companies, that makes it an area of growing opportunity. These are, after all, countries with high energy usage, with a particular need for cool buildings.
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They are heavy users of energy in relation to water, including getting, purifying and desalinating it. It is also a region with natural resources in solar and wind energy.
Right now in the Gulf, the focus is on green building. While construction there is subject to the same cyclical activities as elsewhere, it takes place on a massive scale that is less about individual buildings than about whole new districts, and even cities. Investors at such a scale need a return on investment at scale too, and one way of providing it is through ensuring the highest possible levels of energy efficiency throughout.
Companies in the region want to make sure their processes are efficient too. If they are buying technologies, they want them to be as efficient as possible.
Waste management is another area of rapid development. Not long ago in Ireland, we simply binned our rubbish. Now we reuse and recycle.
As economies become more sophisticated, they become more conscious of waste management. This is true across MENA, where interest in recycling and waste-to-energy technologies is growing.
Government policies that incentivise consumers and businesses help by providing an impetus for cleantech growth.
It's particularly important in MENA countries where high population growth rates mean overall demand for energy is rising.
The Irish cleantech companies that travelled to WETEX this week are well-placed to help.
Ireland has significant strengths and advantages that can be leveraged to exploit business opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy, smart grids, waste, water management, and energy efficiency.
Enterprise Ireland's work supporting companies to attend WETEX, along with the one-to-one work we undertake with businesses in the region, gives us an understanding of the pain points they are facing.
In June, Enterprise Ireland Dubai organised an inward buyer visit to Dublin, giving Irish companies the opportunity to pitch to key energy stakeholders from across the Middle East.
Through all this activity, we are building connectivity and awareness. But Irish companies need to invest too, including in shoe leather.
What we saw at WETEX were sophisticated buyers well-informed of offerings in the cleantech space and looking for innovations that are compelling, competitively priced and proven. The solutions they require must bring efficiencies and save money.
But buyers in the region want evidence of commitment too. Companies looking to do business in the region must demonstrate that they are prepared to build the deep relationships required for it to take place. It means that alongside a compelling offering, you need to be a frequent visitor, one willing to invest in the market and prepared to understand the nuances of the Gulf.
The Irish companies that attended this week's WETEX, which included Kingspan Water & Energy, TechWorks Marine and NuLumen Tek, all understand this.
They know Enterprise Ireland has worked in the region for many years, helping to foster the connectivity, awareness and relationships required to win business there. For cleantech companies, it represents a clear opportunity.
Conor Fahy is regional director for India, Middle East and North Africa at Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business