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UAE’s Power Sector: Transitioning to a clean and smart grid [free access]

September 9, 2021

United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) power production has long been driven by hydrocarbons. However, in recent years, the country has been focusing on clean power in a bid to cater to its ever-growing power demand and to save costs associated with it. These goals are clearly reflected in the UAE’s Energy Planfor 2050, which was announced in 2017. The Energy Plan envisages the production of 44 per cent of power from renewables, 6 per cent from nuclear, 12 per cent from clean coal and the rest from natural gasby 2050. The strategy also aims to reduce the country's carbon footprint from power generation by 70 per cent and increase consumption efficiency of individuals and corporates by 40 per cent by 2050.

 

Institutional framework and industry structure

The UAE is a federation of the seven emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain. The power sector in the UAE is served by four government-owned integrated entities under the control of the Ministry of Energy (MoE). The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) caters to Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) to Dubai, the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) to Sharjah and the newly established Etihad Water and Electricity (EWE), which replaces the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), supplies electricity in Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman and Umm al-Quwain. All four entities operate under the guidance and control of the MoE.

 

ADWEA operates through five subsidiaries—Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company (ADWEC), Abu Dhabi Transmission and Despatch Company (TRANSCO), Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC), Al Ain Distribution Company (AADC) and Al Mirfa Power Company (AMPC)—through which it owns the generation, transmission and distribution (T&D) assets. It is also responsible for implementing the government’s privatisation policy in power generation, which involves tendering of a 40 per cent stake in each plant to private bidders. At present, there are several independent water and power producers (IWPPs) in Abu Dhabi. The Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB) is the independent regulatory body for Abu Dhabi’s water, wastewater and electricity sector.

 

DEWA dominates Dubai’s power sector. The Emirate’s first IWPP—the 2.4 GW Hayysan clean coal power plant—is currently under construction. RSB Dubai was set up in 2010 as the independent regulator for electricity and water. Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) is the governing body for policy development to deliver new energy sources in the Emirates.

 

The power grids of ADWEA, DEWA, SEWA and EWEhave been interconnected to form the Emirates National Grid (ENG). The ENG is operated and monitored from a control centre at the Al Aweer power station and can accommodate a power flow of up to 1,450 MW. The ENG forms part of a Gulf-wide regional grid system, linking the national grids of the six countries (UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman) of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

 

Future plans and focus

UAE has one of the highest solar exposure rates in the world, giving it tremendous potential for renewable energy development. UAE’s future plans involve developing clean energy, which is also in line with its Energy Strategy 2050. To aid this, it is also focusing on strengthening its T&D network. The country also intends to move towards advanced electricity infrastructure and energy efficiency programmes, with smart grids and electric vehicles (EVs) being a core area of focus. Further, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), UAE is expected to install more than 18 GW of solar energy by 2030, which, in turn, is expected to drive the demand for smart grids in the future, creating vast opportunities for market players. The country is also pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy programme and is the first country in the Middle East to operate zero carbon nuclear power.

 

Continued focus on renewables

Dubai is fast-tracking the development of its clean energy resources to end its heavy reliance on fossil fuels. In May 2020, DEWA announced that the share of clean energy in Dubai’s energy mix had increased to around 9 per cent. This exceeds the target set in the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, which aimed to provide 7 per cent of Dubai’s total power output from clean energy sources by 2020 and 75 per cent by 2050. DEWA’s total installed capacity stands at 12,900 MW, which includes 1,013 MW from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) solar park, the largest solar park in the world, launched in January 2012 and managed by DEWA. The fifth phase totalling 900 MW was allocated in November 2019, with a record price of USD0.01693 per kWh. DEWA is also aiming for solar panels on every roof by 2030. In May 2021, DEWA, in partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai and Germany’s Siemens Energy, inaugurated the AED50 million green hydrogen plant at the MBR solar park. The integrated facility was developed with electrolysis, storage and re-electrification capabilities. The daylight solar power from the MBR park will enable the pilot project to produce about 20.5 kilograms an hour of hydrogen at 1.25 MWe of peak power.

 

Meanwhile Abu Dhabi established Masdar City to lead the emirate's renewable energy initiative. Masdar City, a project on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi city, is proposed to be run entirely on renewable energy as a zero carbon emissions city. In 2019,the world’s single largest solar project, the 1,177 MW Noor Abu Dhabi solar plant, began commercial operation. With 3.2 million solar panels installed across an 8-sq-km site, Noor Abu Dhabi is providing enough power to meet the equivalent demand of 90,000 people. The Abu Dhabi government also successfully awarded a 2GW solar power project in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi in 2020.

 

Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Diamond Developers announced in March 2019 the construction of a sustainable city in Sharjah entirely powered by solar PV energy. It is poised to become the first residential community in the region to enjoy access to renewable energy storage solutions.

 

In December 2020, EDF Renewables, the renewable energy unit of the French energy group EDF, closed financing with Jinko Power HK—a subsidiary of China-based power producer Jinko Power Technology—for the 2 GW Al Dhafra PV2 solar project, which will be built approximately 35 km from Abu Dhabi. The project is a public-private partnership with EDF Renewables and Jinko Power each holding 20 per cent stakes, while the remaining 60 per cent is held by TAQA Group and Masdar. The project is scheduled for commissioning in 2022.

 

Expansion of conventional capacity

DEWA is involved in the construction of the 2,400 MW Hassyan clean coal power station being developed by the consortium of Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and China’s Harbin Electric. The project entails the construction of four 600 MW units and is being developed along the lines of the independent power producer (IPP) model. Unit-1 of the project was connected to the grid in May 2020. Work is also underway for the 1,026 MW Layyah combined cycle power plant, being implemented by SEWA over three stages. The project entails an investment of AED2,050 billion with the first phase with a capacity of 345 MW scheduled to be commissioned in October 2021.

 

Nuclear energy

In 2008, UAE released its Nuclear Energy Policy, which is built on the standards of safety, transparency and security, making the UAE a role model for nuclear energy development worldwide. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), established in 2009, is currently involved in overseeing the construction of the country’s first nuclear power station, the 5.6 GW Barakah nuclear power plant (NPP). In March 2020, the plant successfully completed fuel assembly loading into unit, marking the commissioning of nuclear operations.In August 2021, Nawah Energy Company (Nawah), the operating and maintenance subsidiary of ENEC, successfully started up Unit 2 of the Barakah NPP. When fully operational, the four units of the plant will produce 5.6 GW of electricity while preventing the release of more than 21 million tons of carbon emissions every year. Recently, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council approved the construction of four 400 kV overhead transmission lines at the Barakah plant, which will link to the two main stations in Madinat Zayed and Bab 2.

 

Transmission expansion and strengthening

To connect the upcoming renewable energy and non-conventional fuel-based plants with the transmission grid, UAE has been undertaking grid expansion activities, installing more transmission lines, adding more substations and expanding the existing ones.

 

TRANSCO,UAE’s largest grid owner, has an approximately 68 per cent share of UAE’s line network. DEWA has a 26 per cent share and SEWA accounts for 6 per cent of the network. Majority of the substations in UAE are at the 132 kV voltage level, with DEWA accounting for over 70 per cent of those substations. Only TRANSCO owns and operates substations at a voltage level of 220 kV.

 

Between January to April 30, 2021, DEWA inaugurated six transmission substations with a total investment of over AED1.1 billion. These include a 400 kV substation at the MBR Solar Park with a conversion capacity of 2,020 MVA and five 132 kV substations across several areas in Dubai with a conversion capacity of 750 MVA. In November 2020, DEWA awarded Hitachi ABB Power Grid with a five-year contract for the supply of a substation control and monitoring system (SCMS) for 33 substations in Dubai.

 

Currently, Dubai has 314x132 kV substations and another 37 substations at 132 kV are under construction. DEWA is also in the process of awarding cable works for the 132/11 kV Tilal Al Ghaf, Senaat, Sarayat Street and Valley substations, the new 132 kV Citywalk-Khazan cable circuit, and associated modification works. Currently, the total value of DEWA’s power transmission network under construction exceeds AED8.5 billion.

 

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) plans to invest USD10.9 billion for the expansion of its T&D network, which is part of the company’s 2030 vision for increasing the share of power generation from clean sources to more than 30 per cent, from the current 5 per cent, by 2030.

 

 

Planned transmission network additions, 2020-26

Voltage

2020-22

2022-26

2020-26

Transmission line length (km)

1,041

174

1,215

132 kV AC

115

9

124

220 kV AC

15

25

40

400 kV AC

979

140

1,119

Transformer capacity (MVA)

4,140

540

4,680

132 kV AC

1,040

320

1,360

220 kV AC

600

220

820

400 kV AC

2,500

0

2,500

Number of substations

3

1

4

132 kV AC

2

1

3

220 kV AC

1

0

1

400 kV AC

0

0

0

Note: Data for Abu Dhabi is calculated from the detailed list of projects mentioned in TRANSCO’s Seven-year Electricity Planning Statement 2020–26. Data for Dubai has been calculated on the basis of their expansion plans for 2019.

Source: ADEWA; Global Transmission Research

 

Smart grid and EVs

A smart grid is a key component of DEWA’s strategy to develop an advanced infrastructure. It includes programmes with investments of up to AED7 billion that will be completed in the short, medium and long-term until 2035. In 2019, DEWA renewed its collaboration with Honeywell to install 2,50,000 additional smart meters across Dubai, bringing the total number of Honeywell smart meters installed as part of the ‘Smart Applications via Smart Grid and Meters’ initiative to approximately 1 million.

 

The EV Green Charger initiative, launched by DEWA in 2015, provides a network of electric vehicle (EVs) chargers across Dubai and forms a part of the Dubai Green Mobility Strategy 2030. As of February 2021, Dubai registered 2,473 electric vehicles and 6,016 hybrid vehicles. To further support EV adoption, DEWA is providing free charging for non-commercial EV customers registered in the EV Green Charger Initiative until December 31, 2021.

 

Outlook

UAE is well on track to meet its Energy Strategy 2050. Electricity consumption is growing by leaps and bounds in the country, resulting in the demand for new power projects. The projections for investment in the UAE power sector also look promising. The plans to develop renewable energy are driving investment in the grid of the UAE. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, delays in major renewable project auctions and the construction of ongoing projects, lack of privatisation in the power sector in the northern emirates and the slow upgrade of T&D networks pose a challenge to the power sector's development. However, backed by impressive technology, UAE is well equipped to meet the ever-increasing energy demands and create smart and efficient energy sources.