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The SEWA way

The emirate of Sharjah is undergoing a major transformation under HE Dr. Rashid Al Leem, Chairman of Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA)

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The emirate of Sharjah is undergoing a major transformation under HE Dr. Rashid Al Leem, Chairman of Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA).

A quick drive through the streets of Sharjah in UAE offers a clear vision of an emirate in a rush to catch up with its neighbours on the wider push towards smart cities.

Solar energy is now being used to light up more than 20kms of a major stretch of the city’s suburbs such as Al Saja’a and Al Barashi that were hitherto obscured in darkness.

It is a feat that signals the kind of direction that Sharjah has chosen to take over the coming years to address growing electricity and water needs, driven by population growth and emirate’s industry expansion.

“We have chosen to take the smart and clean way to guarantee our relevancy in an ever evolving society and to ensure sustainability,” says Al Leem.

“Rising energy needs oblige investment in sustainable and clean energy production and use. As a social facility, street light is a key indicator of socio-economic development position of a country. Streetlights also play an important role in improving the general business and living climate of urban and peri-urban areas.”

Dr. Al leem points out that due to the high demand on the national grid, diversification of a country’s energy system and supply is important, and that for this to happen, advanced technology must be fully tapped.

“Such diversification would require energy efficient technologies and sources of energy that are independent of the national grid such as solar power. Technology is a very important aspect in the operation of utilities,” says Dr. Al Leem.

The emirate of Sharjah has remained the most favoured among UAE residents when it comes to affordable accommodation. Its relatively lower rents and family ambiance have for so many years attracted middle to low income families, the majority of whom work full time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But complaints over high domestic electric and water bills, power and water outages, unsatisfactory customer service among others, have previously compelled several residents to reconsider their housing options.

This was the first and main concern that the SEWA chairman set out to hurriedly address as soon as he assumed office in 2014.

“We wanted a complete overhaul of the organisation from top to bottom,” says Al Leem. “This was necessary if we were to bring the much needed change in service delivery and in meeting the expectations of all stakeholders.”

In the same year, the ruler of Sharjah Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi issued a decree for the restructuring of SEWA, moving it from being 100% government owned, to a corporate entity run as a private company.

The idea behind the restructuring of SEWA was to return it to profit making as a corporate organisation while striking a balance between its social and financial obligations, says Dr. Al Leem.

And to ensure a timely and efficient decision making process, the entire SEWA board had to be disbanded.

“As chairman, I report directly to the ruler and this has helped to speed up decision making. The organisation had for long been underperforming and I was given the task to turn it around,” says Dr. Al Leem.

To him, a simple smile can do wonders for an organisation as big as SEWA. Indeed his first task has been to ensure that every staff member wears a smile at all times.

“My turn around journey of the organisation started with fifteen principles, but key amongst them is the smile. It is the most peaceful language. When you smile to your customers, employees, vendors and suppliers, you get back a reflection of that smile. It fosters team work, an element that was previously absent,” says Dr. Al Leem.

“But above all, innovation and continuous optimisation are principle that will allow to quickly catch up with evolving demand trends,” he points out.

To emphasise the need for innovation, SEWA has signed long term partnership agreements with globally recognised brands such as Siemens, ABB, GE, Rolls Royce and IBM to amplify the use of smart technologies across various operations in the hope to enhance service delivery.

With the emirate zealously warming up for a wider adoption of renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind energy, it is already putting in place a smart grid infrastructure that will ensure zero downtime through a robust system of grid monitoring.

The emirate is home to the region’s biggest smart control screen that helps to monitor electric current flow right from generation, transmission to distribution from SEWA’s Nasseriya control room.

The $8.6mn control room monitor has been helpful in reducing power outages, one of the key complaints from customers, says Dr. Al Leem.

“Our smart monitoring system ensures stability in the functioning of the power networks by helping engineers detect glitches and power overload. These used to be the main reasons behind power outages that often caused disruptions in businesses. But this problem has now been addressed with the use of SCADA,” says Dr. Al Leem.

The current installed capacity in Sharjah is 2.9GW from 53 production units across the emirate, and these are all linked to the control room that is managed through supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology.

SEWA is currently undertaking the conversion of the existing Al Hamriyah power plant in the emirate.

The project involves the expansion and conversion of the existing Al Hamriyah power plant from an open-cycle to a combined cycle facility. The new addition of new turbines and the conversion to combined cycle will increase the capacity of the existing 500MW open-cycle plant by 1,000MW.

The project will include the construction of a substation, storage tanks, control rooms and other related facilities, the installation of turbines, transformers, generator and power controlling units, and the laying of transmission lines.

SEWA is currently evaluating eight bids for the contract on the expansion work which is expected to increase electricity production capacity from 500MW to between 1,000MW and 1,500MW. The bid process began towards the end of 2015.

Since last year, Sharjah has been pumping natural gas 25 kilometres from the new Zora gas field to an onshore gas processing plant at Hamriyah Free Zone and then directly to the Hamriyah power station. The power station uses GE Energy’s gas turbine technology to produce electricity. The expansion project and conversion to a combined-cycle process is expected to add two new turbines.

Combined-cycle power plants use both a gas and a steam turbines together to produce up to 50% more electricity from the same fuel, compared with traditional plants. The waste heat from gas turbines is routed to steam turbines, which generate additional power.

The Hamriyah facility is Sharjah’s largest power generation and water desalination plant, planned to have a future capacity of 2500MW of electricity and 140 million gallons of water per day.

The desalination production facility was updated in 2015 using the latest technology increasing capacity by 28% to 20 million gallons of desalinated water per day, with a further 25% increase in capacity planned for 2017.

Peak power demand in Sharjah was 2,275MW in 2015 and power consumption is expected to rise by about 10% per annum. SEWA plans to address rising power demands via an innovative strategy to optimise its existing assets, plus energy conservation measures, with no new power stations planned before 2020.

“We do not see any real need at the moment to increase power generation. The emirate’s electric capacity is enough for now. We are instead focusing on continuous optimisation of existing assets to make sure that they function to their full capacity,” says Dr. Al Leem.

Power and water conservation is high on SEWA’s agenda through a conscious effort to reduce consumption for domestic and commercial purposes by 30%. For the last two years, the organisation has promoted the peak hour concept that educates customers to conserve their use of water and electricity during the summer season as one way to bring down utility bills and also minimise wastage.

Dr. Al Leem says that this concept, along with the introduction of smart meters are allowing users to have full control of their utility consumption, ensuring greater customer satisfaction and also allowing optimum use of the existing power and water capacity.

SEWA has already installed more than 20,000 smart meters across the emirate and is in the process of engaging smart meter suppliers for the next phase of installations.

At the Middle East Electricity exhibition and conference last month, SEWA interacted with several suppliers of smart monitoring solutions to support it in its drive towards efficiency and conservation. Some of these solutions, such as the Omnisense by Omni Systems, enable end users to have a full insight on their water and electricity usage, and are able to remotely switch off any unwanted appliance in their homes.

“This is why I think the Internet of Things, cloud technology and big data are key elements in the utility infrastructure of the future. Allowing users to be in full control of their own consumption while enabling utilities to monitor their entire operations have the potential to unlock great value,” says Dr. Al Leem.

He is however not blind to the challenges that come with exposure to smart solutions. With cyber security becoming a key concern as the world gets smarter, Dr. Al Leem is equally concerned, but he would rather live with this threat than attempt to reverse the wheel.

“We are at a point of no return, whatever happens,” says Dr. Al Leem. “These are some of the challenges that we must learn to live and deal with as society evolves.”

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