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Looking after installed infrastructure is all well and good, but the immense projects earmarked for the coming decade in the Middle East leave no room for complacency when it comes to the existing grid strengths. Di Marco is sure that CAPEX spending is set for a strong decade, and that industrialization will play a big part of that.
“There will be a steady pick up in big project spending again. Certain industry segments have been identified, such as heavy industry, process industries, factories and refining and petrochemical facilities.”
The region is already home to the world’s largest single site aluminium smelter in the UAE, where ABB technology plays a significant role. Emirates Aluminium (EMAL), a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Company and Dubai Aluminium Company DUBAL, built a green field US$5b smelter at the Taweelah industrial zone close to Abu Dhabi.
The world’s first fully integrated power distribution system, which set new standards for green field smelter projects, was designed and installed by ABB.
“The region has a huge potential to become a process driven export hub,” he says. “In Europe today they aren’t really building these enormous plant projects anymore, so you can infer from that that they will have to buy in, and it makes sense to get a lot of that work done here.”
Di Marco says these heavy industry projects will most likely be government driven or backed. However, this stream of industrial projects will place further demands on the region’s electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure, and part of meeting that growth will come from efficiency gains which are achievable, he says.
“Customers in the Middle East don’t find energy efficiency a big priority…yet. Once demand - and with it tariffs - start to climb, this will become a much more important area.”
In order to help customers reduce energy consumption, Di Marco says he is excited about the impending launch of a new web-based tool for local industry.
“We are bringing a new product to the UAE, called the ABB Energy Calculator App. It will enable small customers to get access to our website and conduct their own energy efficiency evaluation.” Di Marco says it’s a simple system to put in, and that ABB can help them improve their own energy efficiency.
“The biggest customers have had this capability for a while, but because small customers don’t have the time or resources to carry such analysis out, it will help them manage their costs a lot better.
We expect that existing plants with legacy or ageing equipment will see a big benefit from this. Owners may have a fairly simple solution to making their plant considerably more efficient, but just haven’t identified it yet,” he says.
Despite the region being synonymous with enormous oil and gas deposits deep underground, the Middle East’s most obvious and abundant energy resource is rarely out of sight.
Indeed, it’s hard to fathom quite why solar hasn’t had a speedier take-up in this part of the world. Grand projects such as Masdar grab the headlines, but a real and significant regional adoption hasn’t exploded in quite the way many thought it would.
Di Marco says that in the immediate future that is unlikely to change and that gas will be the big winner in the regional energy fuel mix. “Gas growth is going to be a key driver in the southern gulf. In the UAE there isn’t that much available gas, but I think they can further connect with international suppliers.” However, there are several factors which suggest the future is still quite bright for the solar brigade.
“The prevailing thought at the moment certainly seems to be that solar developments will be in addition to, not substitutes of gas-fired power generation. That said, the barriers to more wide-scale adoption are low here.
It’s actually easier to insert solar additions to the grid here than it would be in Europe where the bureaucracy and red tape is phenomenal because there are fewer, or in many cases one master provider, its easier to get the OK for that sort of project,” explains Di Marco.
ABB has significant strengths in renewables and energy efficiency, and a great deal of scope where it can help utilities implement new technology, says Di marco.
“We have something to offer in the market that’s crosses the whole business spectrum. ABB needs to be seen as a complete solution provider rather than only a product or small system provider. We can go from the switch to the power plant and that’s where the real value-add is,” he enthuses.
DiMarco says an area where ABB has particular, and often untapped strengths with regards to the Middle East’s energy networks is in pre-project planning.
“We can leverage our strength in system design to help customers and evaluate needs before they go out o tender. Customers in this region have not utilized this much to date.
But we can help them make better and more cost effective decisions in terms of equipment, not just in the field of reducing initial costs but also assisting in ensuring that the life-cycle cost is kept to a minimum. Life cycle services can not only improve the operations but extend the life of plants and plant equipment
too,” he says.
The vibrant utilities outlook in the Middle East, Di Marco says, is showing shows no signs of abating just yet. Indeed, one of the principal pull-factors behind his move to Abu Dhabi was the abundance of opportunities which a rapidly developing market presents.
“From a business perspective, right across the Southern Gulf, the horizon is always changing. It’s a dynamic and exciting environment to be involved in, and one where ABB has a great deal to offer.”
Middle Eastern sales volumes for the company have regularly hit the $2.5 billion per year mark.
“That figure represents the Gulf and neighbouring countries as a whole, but I think I have the scope to double my volumes here, and there aren’t many places in the world which can offer as tantalizing an opportunity as that right now,” concludes Di Marco.
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