Cheap electricity and a hot climate have resulted in rocketing energy consumption in the Middle East’s Gulf states, which if allowed to continue, will impact on the natural resources that bankroll these economies.

••• BY KELVIN ROSS •••

Doha – Qatar plans to use its hosting of the 2022 World Cup as a showcase for clean energy Source: QNCC

The Middle East has a power problem almost unique to its region.

Abundant in oil and gas, many countries enjoy incredibly cheap energy tariffs – around 2 US cents per kilowatt hour in Saudi Arabia, for example.

Low energy prices and a hot climate are a recipe for just one thing – unabated consumption. People in the GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – consume six times the global average in electricity.

In Saudi, homes consume more electricity than the country’s industrial sector, with a huge chunk being used to power air conditioning, which can be running almost 24 hours a day – in the summer, Saudi’s temperature drops only 15 degrees from its peak in the afternoon to its lowest in the middle of the night.

One executive said at POWER-GEN Middle East in Qatar last week: “In Saudi, we just build buildings and we cool them!”

It is anticipated that up to $10 billion per year will have to be invested in electrical infrastructure in the coming years to meet demand. The kneejerk solution is to simply build more power plants, and this is happening apace in all the GCC countries. But the flip side to this course of action is that bigger power plants will use more oil and gas, and if more is being consumed domestically, there will be less to sell to bring in the revenues that bankroll entire economies.

The answer to this consumption conundrum is to develop a demand-side management plan that factors-in load management, demand response and energy efficiency.

This is already being mooted in Saudi Arabia, led by the Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority, and its Gulf neighbours need to follow suit.

The other solution is to embrace renewable energy. For a time it seemed incongruous to suggest that the countries with the most plentiful fossil fuels on the planet should turn to alternative forms of power, but it is the abundance of these fossil fuels that will be at risk if they do not.

The sunny climate of the Gulf makes solar power an obvious option, but so too does the boom in infrastructure development in countries such as Qatar – with some forward thinking, PV panels could be incorporated into the huge number of construction projects being built.

Qatar is aware of its solar potential, and proposes to use its hosting of the 2022 football World Cup as a showcase for clean energy: the Khalifa Stadium is intended to run entirely on solar power.

But some feel the Qataris are missing a trick with their World Cup stadium.

Rudiger Tscherning, director of the Energy and Environmental Law Forum at Qatar University College of Law, told an energy efficiency seminar at POWER-GEN Middle East in Doha last week: “Rather than leave the stadium infrastructure underutilised when no events are scheduled, I propose that the infrastructure of the stadium is ‘doubled up’ as a locally distributed solar power plant.

“Outside the periods of use of the venue, the electricity generated from solar energy will be re-directed by way of Smart Grids to cool or heat local schools or hospitals or provide electricity to adjacent manufacturing clusters, serving as an example of innovative urban development to integrate localised generation and distribution of energy, based on a climate policy.”

Tscherning also believes that future rail projects in Qatar – including a Doha metro and a link to Bahrain – could incorporate Smart Grid technology to distribute power around the country.

All of which makes perfect sense. The rub comes in getting policymakers and public alike to buy into it, and that needs a top-down approach that begins with a state-drafted energy map that puts demand-side management – and in turn energy efficiency – front and centre.

There is no doubt it can be done. California was forced into similar action following its blackouts in 2005 and Germany has overhauled its energy policy since, deciding to opt out of nuclear.

The rewards are there for the taking – a chance to put the GCC countries at the forefront of global players in the clean-tech/energy-efficiency market. The natural resources are there and so too are the technology and funding. All that’s needed is the will. Otherwise, as one executive said at POWER-GEN Middle East: “At this rate, our kids are going to ask, ‘Where did all the oil go’?”

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