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Sustainability the Watchword

Nick Carter on why efficienct use of power and water is crucial

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Nick Carter, DG of Abu Dhabi's Regulation Supervision Bureau
Nick Carter, DG of Abu Dhabi's Regulation Supervision Bureau

After a brief hiccup a couple of years ago, the Middle East’s astonishing growth story seems to be back on track. Across the region, nations and Emirates have set bold visions for 2030, and judging by the number of construction cranes towering over many cities, they are well on course to achieving them.

This continued growth has been largely built around the region’s abundant natural resources, mostly oil and gas plus a range of diverse revenue generation strategies such as tourism with hotels, beaches and magnificent shopping malls. However, underpinning this growth are the utilities that we almost take for granted nowadays: water, electricity, and wastewater treatment. If we don’t meet the growing demands for power and water, it will seriously impede any ambitions for economic growth in the region.

How big is the challenge? The World Energy Council estimates that the Middle East’s demand for power alone will double by 2050. In Abu Dhabi, the peak demand for electricity has almost doubled over the last ten years, putting tremendous pressure on the electricity grid. Maintaining secure and efficient supplies during peak periods is becoming increasingly challenging.

Likewise, Abu Dhabi’s total consumption of desalinated water – which supplies all tap water in the Emirate - reached 1.1 billion cubic metres (Bcm), in 2013, and it is expected that demand will increase to more than 1.5 Bcm by 2030. Groundwater and recycled wastewater are the other sources of water and the sector is working hard at using as much recycled water as possible for irrigation purposes.

Water and electricity are inextricably linked – even more so in the desert conditions of the Middle East. In the UAE, most of our water is produced by co-generation plants: power plants that generate electricity, and use the waste steam to desalinate the water we get from our taps. The scale, effort and resources needed to maintain supplies of water and electricity, and ensure plentiful supplies for growth and future generations, are staggering.

Currently, much of the Middle East’s electricity is generated using natural gas. To reduce its reliance on natural gas, Abu Dhabi is also investing in renewable energy (RE) sources, with over 110 MW of existing solar power generation and further RE and low carbon projects under consideration including the possibility of waste-to-energy plants which could provide a further 300 MW of power by 2021.

Other carbon free or low carbon technologies include the building of nuclear power plants. Starting in 2017, a total of four reactors will be commissioned at the rate of one a year until 2020, providing the UAE with a total of 5.6GW of energy for 60 years.

However, simply growing capacity is not sustainable. Conservation is a critical part of a sustainable water and electricity sector – and this will need a clear change in consumption behaviour by the people of the Middle East, who have not always had to pay much attention to this.

It is estimated that UAE residents use between 250 and 550 litres of water and 20-30 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a day, compared to the international average of 170 to 300 litres and 15kWh per day respectively. Cooling and air conditioning alone is responsible for 65% of the peak electricity load in the summer months.

The bottom line is clear: water and electricity are precious resources, and ways must be found of usingthese resources as efficiently as possible so as to continue to meet the needs of people, businesses and industries in the region. Sustainability is the watchword for the Middle East growth story to continue.

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