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How Smart Grids could change the Middle East

Exclusive: Frank Ackland, GM of Digital Energy for GE on smart grids

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An example of how an extensive smart grid could potentially link the elements of a city together.
An example of how an extensive smart grid could potentially link the elements of a city together.

Frank Ackland, General Manager of Digital Energy in the Middle East for GE Energy, talks to UME about the future of smart grids in the GCC.

Why is it important that smart grids are implemented in the Middle East region?
The Middle East is at the heart of energy challenges. Population is predicted to increase in the Middle East by an average of 38 per cent - think about the enormous demand this growth will place on the electric grid.

Electricity demand is expected to more than double over the next 20 years requiring significant capacity increases in the face of natural fossil fuel resource constraints.

Between now and 2030, CO2 emissions from the Middle East are predicted to grow by 67 per cent. As the international community joins hands to mitigate climate change, countries must find ways to develop sustainable growth strategies to remain competitive in a carbon-constrained economy.

This is why a smarter grid is critical for the future of the Middle East.
GE will help build tomorrow’s smart energy grid; help drive
electric vehicles out of the labs and onto the world’s roadways; and work to build advanced, cleaner energy production in places like
the Middle East.

A smarter grid has the potential to give consumers in-depth
information on their energy usage, and as a result, consumers will
be able to understand the consequence of the energy decisions they make every day and be able to better manage their energy consumption and costs.

Once deployed, new grid software and sensors and controls will make it easy and cost-effective to add more local renewable power, such as localised wind generation and biomass as well as making plug-in electric cars a viable transport option.

The smart homes that GE pilots in Masdar City, in Abu Dhabi, through our partnership with Mubadala Development Company, are an example of innovation that strives to address not just the issue of energy and cost-saving for the residents, but the bigger challenge of climate change and sustainable development.

How do you see the role of smart grids developing in the next decade?
GE has been at the forefront of the smart grid technology globally, and we are focused on developing integrated, energy-efficient smart grids for the Middle East region.

We believe that a focus on smart grids is imperative to meet the pressing energy requirements of the region led by rising population and a focus on infrastructure development.

Smart grid technologies are relevant globally, especially with the current pace of urbanisation. The world’s cities will house more than 60 per cent of the world’s population by 2030, and it is expected that global electricity demand will increase by 75 per cent in the next two decades. More than 40 per cent of the world’s emissions come from electricity generation.

Should power subsidies be looked before smart grids are implemented on a large scale?
The implementation of smart grids on a larger scale demands a commitment from industry, and the political will to enhance energy use efficiency, and partner with manufacturers in climate-change initiatives.

What we definitely need is a shift in mindset, which we already witness in the Middle East, whereby the larger value addition brought by smart grid is understood and accepted by the public.

Smart grids are not only about cost savings; they are also about a contribution to managing emissions and investing in our collective future.

What’s next for smart grids?
There are several game-changing smart grid efforts in the offing, especially renewables integration, grid automation, system optimisation and in the preparation of electric vehicles.

In addition, there are concerted efforts to increase energy efficiencies and utilise cleaner energy sources more effectively, thanks to new research and development.

Some initiatives in smart grids where there are tangible accomplishments include integrating renewable energy from wind farms, switching from oil-fired boilers to heat pumps, and facilitating use of electric vehicles and mini-wind turbines in homes.

What are the biggest challenges facing the adoption of smart grids in the Middle East ?
One of the biggest hurdles to rolling out smart grid technologies isn’t the hardware or software. Rather, it’s filling in the information gaps that everyone has — consumers, businesses, policy makers and even big industrial customers — on exactly what a smart grid is, why it matters, and what the immense benefits are. This is certainly relevant to the Middle East too.

Consumer education and policy strategies must go hand in hand to usher in a more robust adoption of smart grids. That is why we have set up an education website called itsyoursmartgrid.com.

Consumers need to understand that smart grid encompasses more than just ‘visible’ technologies such as meters and appliances. Smart grid is about making decades-old transformers more intelligent in order to minimise outages.

It is about investing in infrastructure so that we can support electric cars tomorrow, enhance our energy use efficiency and manage the emission levels.

How can the utilities industry benefit from smart grids?
Ultimately, the impact of smart grids translates into efficiencies that benefit utility companies, taking the stress out of their distribution and transmission systems, reducing peak loads and enabling optimisation of the supply pipeline.

Where do you see the adoption of smart grids being quickest?
Globally there are massive investments in smart grid; China has
designated US$7.32 billion for smart grid investment, followed by the US at US$7.09 billion and Japan at US$849 million.

There are initiatives across the world in adopting smart grids; ultimately, it is about customer awareness and government resolve.

The GCC countries have seen tremendous growth in infrastructure, and they are still the leading countries in electricity consumption per capita. If we examine the situation in the GCC we see that the United Nations Environmental

program identified three of the GCC countries as those with the highest per capita energy consumption in the world.

It also concluded that the six GCC countries contribute approximately 45 to 50 per cent of the cumulative Arab countries’ CO2 emissions. For this reason I expect to see the deployment of smart grid technologies in the Middle East over the next decade.

How will the GCC Interconnection Grid enhance or affect the way smart grids work?
Any initiative that enhances operational efficiencies will serve as a perfect complement to smart grids. The goal of the GCC Interconnection Grid is to provide a platform for energy trade and exchange, improve the reliability of the existing energy systems and lower electricity requirements by the GCC nations.

Eventually, the GCC Interconnection Grid will help to reduce generating capacity through active sharing and lowering the operating costs. These goals are a perfect fit to smart grid technologies.

Meet Frank Ackland
Frank Ackland is Regional General Manager for the Digital Energy business, GE Energy Services for the Middle East and Africa region. He has more than 14 years’ experience in the transmission and distribution industry in the Middle East, India, Asia and Northern Europe. He also holds an MBA from the University of Derby in the UK, and an HNC/ONC in Electrical Engineering from Stafford College.

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