Oil and gas rich Gulf seeks alternative energy

Oct 30, 2007 01:00 AM

With booming domestic demand for power, the hydrocarbon-rich Arabian Gulf countries are exploring the use of alternative and renewable energy resources, says a leading industry expert. Studies are underway for multi-billion coal, nuclear, solar, wind and hydrogen power plants as the United Arab Emirates leads the way.
“The vast majority of power generation projects in the Arabian Gulf are for power stations using conventional gas for their energy source,” said David Weaver, Group CEO of ESR Technology, one of the world’s leading engineering, safety and risk management companies. “But the region is struggling to find enough suitable gas to meet future power demands and the first signs are beginning to emerge of major investment in the region into alternatives,” he added.

“It may seem surprising that, with all the available hydrocarbon reserves, alternatives are figuring increasingly in Gulf region power planning. However this is displaying the classic wisdom: ‘In victory plan for defeat.’ In other words, when times are good, build resources against future uncertainty.”
There are 114 active power generation projects of all types in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth a combined total of well over $ 160 bn.

“The United Arab Emirates -- with an insatiable and growing demand for power which it is unable to meet from gas alone, along with pressures to reduce high per capita carbon dioxide emissions -- is leading the way in looking seriously at alternative energy sources,” said Weaver, chairman of the Power and Finance Week conference in Bahrain.
“One of the major areas of study is nuclear,” said Weaver of ESR Technology which was formed from the commercial arm of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and is presenting an overview on nuclear safety management and nuclear licensing at the Power and Finance Week conference.

“A nuclear programme study is to be carried out on behalf of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Company and is said to have a budget of $ 4 bn,” Weaver added. “This project is not connected to the GCC’s nuclear programme with the General Secretariat of the GCC budgeting $ 10 bn for the design, supply, build and operation of a nuclear plant for power generation and water desalination in a country yet to be chosen.”
“There is also considerable new activity beginning in the renewable energy field, principally in the United Arab Emirates,” said Weaver who will also be chairing a panel discussion on the future of renewable energy in the Middle East at the Bahrain conference.

“A design study is being carried out for a $ 500 mm solar power plant for the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company Masdar,” Weaver added. “The project is a large one with the scope calling for the design, supply, installation and operation of a 500 MW solar plant.”
“The project aims to decrease the use of oil and gas in power generation to preserve hydrocarbon reserves. The UAE’s solar radiation is measured at 2,200 kWh per sq metre per annum.”

In co-operation with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Masdar is also studying the possibility of building a hydrogen fired power plant. The project is in the early stage of study but has a budget of $ 100 mm. Meanwhile, Dubai is taking a lead in wind power research. A study is being carried out for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority for a $ 1 bn wind farm project.
“The research is on wind as alternative source for power in the region and is on a grand scale, aiming to supply up to 10% of Dubai city's power requirement,” said Weaver. The scope of work involves the meteorological study, design, supply, installation and operation of 70 metre high wind turbines.

In addition, the growing energy demands of the region have also raised the prospect of clean-burn, coal-fired power stations. A study into a $ 1 bn coal fired power plant is being carried out by Taqa, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company.
“Taqa is planning coal fired power plants as an alternative energy, due to increasing demand for power and insufficient gas to meet demand,” said Weaver. “Similarly, Oman is studying a $ 1 bn coal fired power generation plant at Raysut in southern Oman.”

There are also major plans in Saudi Arabia for waste to energy plants. The plants aim to convert commercially hazardous, organic and toxic wastes into saleable electricity and potable water. One of the first plants could be in Jeddah with four to six more plants in major cities.
“All these projects demonstrate that even in the hydrocarbon-rich economies of the Arabian Gulf, the move towards sustainable and renewable energy sources is gathering pace,” Weaver said.

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