Might the Middle East – led by Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states – eventually emerge as a significant new market for cogeneration and, perhaps, wider decentralised energy technologies? Oil refineries around the world are a prime application area for cogeneration, often producing ‘waste’ gases that can be used as fuel, and having large process heat loads that need to be met. Hot climates and large-scale district cooling go together too, although electricity generation is not always involved here.

I was struck by the August announcement that Saudi Aramco has signed agreements with three companies to build and operate cogeneration plants at three major oil and gas complexes (Abqaiq, Hawiya and Ras Tanura) in the oil-rich Kingdom. The proposed plants will between them generate 900 MW of power and provide 1500 tonnes of steam per hour to the refineries from 2016. Aramco’s partners, Marubeni, JGC and Aljomaih Energy and Water, will build and then operate the plants for 20 years. Cogeneration already has a foothold in the country – earlier this year, Aramco was reported to have signed an agreement to expand three existing cogeneration plants.

In textbook CHP-speak, Aramco’s statement referred to the ‘high efficiency in energy consumption and environmental performance’ of the proposed plants. Marubeni called the contract the beginning of a long-term relationship as the Kingdom moves into a new phase of power efficiency and resource management.

In October, the president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, Khalid Al-Falih, said at the World Energy Congress in South Korea that his company is working to increase conventional oil recoveries to 70%, as well as looking for new oil and gas resources. Al-Falih also announced the development of a 1000 MW on-site power plant, to be fuelled by unconventional gas reserves found recently in the north of the country, to feed a massive phosphate mining and manufacturing centre. Not CHP this time, but on-site power.

On-site solar power? Saudi Aramco this summer received the highest possible accreditation under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scheme for its new Al Midra building, which incorporates 10 MW of solar PV panels shading its vehicle parking areas and sized to meet the total demand of the building.

District energy? Also this summer, Saudi Aramco opened a new, CHP-based district cooling plant to serve its headquarters and other facilities in Dhahran. The plant has a generation capacity of 35 MW of electricity and 27,000 tonnes of cooling. Another district energy scheme, located at a university in Riyadh and based on solar thermal technology, won a Global Climate Award at a ceremony in New York in September.

District cooling is booming around parts of the Middle East and both the UAE and Saudi Arabia also have ambitious plans for developing renewable energy resources.

It’s clear that, with the best days of the oil and gas boom now coming to an end, resource efficiency is becoming important to oil-producing countries. Given the scope for cogeneration at petrochemical and other industrial plants, the potential to develop trigeneration and large district energy systems for buildings, campuses and towns, opportunities in the Middle East for the cogeneration and on-site power industry must be growing. That’s more than can be said at the moment about many other regions.

Steve Hodgson   Steve Hodgson
Contributing Editor