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Whereas in Europe the development of smart grid is driven by the desire to reduce energy consumption, decision-makers in the Middle East are motivated by different ambitions. “In Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar, each of these utilities want to show that they are better than the others. They want these projects to be a showcase,” says Chebbo.
Company representatives coming to do business in the region are best advised to tread carefully. “If you come to them and make the mistake to compare them with another one, they will not like it. Each one believes they are the best, and they want to be the best.”
Nothing motivates like competition, of course, and progress is evident in the GCC. SAP, for one, are not complaining. “In the last two years we have had a lot of requests for proposals to built CRM systems, and we’ve seen a lot of smart metering bids. I would say the region is not far away from the projects we see in Western Europe, for instance.”
Dubai’s Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is amongst SAP’s clients, and are showing considerable interest in upgrading their networks. “I would say that Dubai is really pushing, DEWA wants to implement smart metering and other project later and they really keen to invest in this kind of software,” says Chebbo.
DEWA has already implemented software to manage their billing and CRM services, and are now in the process of applying SAP to their network services provider, according to Chebbo. Towards the end of the year, the utility will adopt smart metering. “It is important whether the management of a company is smart enough or not. DEWA has a smart management in place, who look outside, and come and ask questions,” says Chebbo.
Good management is by no means guaranteed, however, and Chebbo identifies mismanagement as one of the obstacles in the way of modernising grids.
“The other problem we have is a lack of understanding between the management and the workforce doing the project. There is a kind of disconnect sometimes between the management and the experts who know the network and the IT.” This can be exacerbated if the man at the top fails to consult those around him. “Sometimes the board of a company is not acting like a board but you have the CEO and the rest of the world, and everything depends on the agenda of the CEO.”
Unfortunately, the lack of common decision making is nothing unusual in the region. Despite working with the GCCIA, the body responsible for the GCC Interconnection Grid, Chebbo believes that cooperation between GCC countries leaves to be desired.
He refers to something that former US vice president and environmental guru Al Gore recently said at an SAP event: “If you want to go first, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go with others.” It is a message decision makers in the GCC would do well to take on board. “Each one is trying to go alone. The GCC grid is the exception, I think they can cooperate much more in all the other areas. They have to learn how to cooperate much more like the Europeans are doing with their smart grids.”
Apart from the obvious comparison to the European Union, the efforts of other countries could serve as an example to GCC governments. China and India, for example, who are keen to expand the reach of the electricity network, have developed programmes both at a federal and a state level.
“If they want to implement a full smart grid, they need a programme at the GCC level which goes down into the different countries, with a smart grid platform where you have the suppliers and the network companies and the regulators all coming together to decide how to implement the smart grid network of the future,” argues Chebbo.