Smart money is on smart grids for local utilities

UAE energy spend expected to top $925 billion over the next decade

Private Public Partnerships are beginning to play an integral role in the development of energy programmes. (GETTY IMAGES)
Private Public Partnerships are beginning to play an integral role in the development of energy programmes. (GETTY IMAGES)

The importance of shared knowledge, whereby developing markets across the Middle East can learn from the experiences of more developed nations in creating their own ‘smart grids’ was under discussion at the Middle East Electricity 2011 Leaders’ Forum, at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre yesterday.

Specifically, adapting conventional power grids to integrate with alternative, renewable energy sources was one of the key issues, as surging power demand places the emphasis on sustainable energy in supplementing power supplied by conventional hydrocarbon-based sources.

Scott Minos, Senior Policy and Communications Specialist, US Department of Energy, was one of the keynote speakers at the forum. He gave an overview of the US experience in modernising and transforming its grid for renewable sources of energy including solar, wind and hydro-electric power.

“As a nation, we started out with lots of very small urban pockets, so unfortunately our electricity grid was created in a very patchwork manner. This has meant we now have to go back and modernise this in making it compatible with new energy technologies,” Minos said.

An additional challenge faced in the US related to the lack of a federalised energy regulatory framework, which means each state has created its own strategy, with little standardisation across the nation.

“The National United States grid developed incrementally, in response to local load growth, meaning that today there are 180,000 miles of transmission line and 14,000 transmission substations, with a distribution grid of over 100 million loads connecting these, comprising residential, industrial and commercial customers,” added Minos.

Applying his comments to the Gulf region highlights the importance of a new strategic approach, which places sustainability, efficiency and diversity at the centre of GCC energy policy.

In the UAE and other parts of the Gulf, structures such as Private Public Partnerships (PPP) are beginning to play an integral support role in the development of energy programmes.

“Governments and private companies benefit from PPPs. The government part-privatises the project saving development costs and limiting its longer term operational commitment. The contractor gets an equity stake and readily available finance from the government, allowing it to complete the project,” said Anita Mathews, Exhibition Director, Middle East Electricity 2011.

In the UAE, where $926 billion has been committed to energy spending over the next decade, two energy alternatives that have been embraced are solar and nuclear power. Masdar, the UAE capital city’s ambitious carbon-neutral energy project, is currently developing the largest concentrated solar power plant, which is due for completion within the next two to three years.

Major construction projects across Dubai are also utilising solar power in new ways, including the iconic Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building uses solar panels to heat 140,000 litres of water every day, saving the energy equivalent of 3,200 kilo watts per day and 690 mega watts per annum.

“The demand for energy and potable water throughout the region is growing significantly and inextricably linked. With an average of 38% of the GCC population under 14 years of age, regional governments will face severe water shortages if nothing is done. Desalination plants remain the most popular choice to produce potable water, which of course in turn will need sustainable power,” added Mathews.

Middle East Electricity 2011 features 1,000 exhibitors from 58 countries and is expecting around 50,000 trade visitors over the three-day show.



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