Protect and preserve: Expanding the supply of power and water and promoting sustainability

 

As the industrial sector has expanded over the past decade, demand for power and water in Ras Al Khaimah has grown exponentially. Consequently, in recent years RAK, like many of the other Northern Emirates, has experienced sporadic power outages and water shortages. This is an issue in the emirate, as it is home to a number of energy-intensive manufacturing companies and other industrial firms. Unannounced power cuts could hurt revenue at many of these firms, which rely on electricity to power production. Similarly, RAK’s growing population and steadily increasing urbanisation have resulted in rapidly rising demand for potable water, a very limited resource in the UAE.

The local government has been working closely with the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), the federal utility that oversees the electricity and water supply in the Northern Emirates, to overcome these shortages. In an effort to boost power supply, both the RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) and FEWA have set up new power infrastructure in recent years, and the emirate is expected to benefit from a new desalination plant by 2013.

While ramping up energy and water supply in the Northern Emirates – and in particular RAK and Sharjah, which have seen the greatest shortages – is a national priority, local and federal authorities are also working to boost environmental protections at home. Balancing these two priorities has been a key focus over the past few years. As of early 2012 the government had managed to pursue both simultaneously, primarily by focusing on developing new clean sources of energy. RAK, home to a nascent but active and technologically advanced sustainable energy sector, is leading the charge.

POWERING UP: In the 1990s and early 2000s, RAK’s power supply was more than sufficient. The emirate was powered by a mix of gas from local fields and imports from Abu Dhabi and other energy-rich neighbours. RAK first faced power shortages in 2003-04, soon after the local government began making major investments in the industrial sector. Securing enough energy to power a number of large-scale manufacturing plants has been a challenge ever since. By 2006 RAK was suffering occasional blackouts, due in large part to burgeoning industrial demand for power, the steadily expanding population and urbanisation. Outages normally took place in the summer months, when air-conditioner use overloaded the power grid.

In 2008 and 2009 FEWA purchased electricity from the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority to make up for the local shortage. At the same time, the authority began to develop plans to upgrade the power grid in the Northern Emirates and find new sources of energy to ensure future supply. In mid-2009 RAKIA completed work on two new power stations, which now supply power to the industrial zones at Al Ghail and Al Hamra. A connection between the two plants, which have a combined capacity of 129 MW, is being constructed so that idle capacity can be utilised. The 40-km pipeline is due to come on-line by the end of 2012.

RECENT EVENTS: In March 2011 Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president, announced that the federal government would invest Dh5.7bn ($1.55bn) in power and water infrastructure projects in the Northern Emirates, including building a handful of additional power plants and substations, improving the transmission network and boosting capacity at a number of older power stations. In October 2011 FEWA completed work on a number of smaller power stations in the Northern Emirates, including one in Masafi, output of which is split between RAK and Fujairah; one at Al Sawan, in RAK; and one in Al Nuaimiya, in Ajman. Two months later, in December 2011, the authority finished construction at the second Al Rifaa power substation in RAK. These projects are part of the first stage of FEWA’s overarching development plan for the area.

WATER WORLD: Water consumption in the UAE is higher than in almost any other nation in the world. In 2010, according to local news reports, the country’s per capita water consumption rate was around 500 litres per day, which is some 82% higher than the world average. According to an early 2012 report released by the Abu Dhabi Environment Authority, annual water consumption in Abu Dhabi exceeds local supply almost 26 times over. At the current rate of use, local ground resources there will be depleted by the end of the year 2050.

With this in mind, the great majority – around 90% – of the UAE’s potable water supply is produced by desalination. After Saudi Arabia, the UAE is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world. Six of the country’s 70 desalination plants are located in RAK. The newest plant – which includes desalination and wastewater treatment components – was set up in the Al Ghail industrial area in April 2010 by RAKIA. The majority of the production coming from the plant goes to large-scale manufacturers and other nearby industrial firms.

FEWA, in conjunction with the federal government and the water authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has launched a number of new water-related projects in recent years. As part of the recently announced Dh5.7bn ($1.55bn) federal investment in the water and power infrastructure in the Northern Emirates, FEWA is undertaking a handful of major water-related projects.

The authority will build a 100-km water pipeline from Kalba, in Sharjah, to Dibba, which sits at the north-eastern tip of the UAE, at a cost of Dh900m ($245m). The line will supply 23m gallons of water per day to Fujairah and the town of Khor Fakkan in Sharjah, which is home to a major container terminal. FEWA is also working on a Dh300m ($81.7m), 60-km pipeline that will be able to supply 18m gallons of water per day to Umm Al Quwain and a Dh158m ($43m), 36-km pipeline to help supply RAK.

In mid-2011 parts of RAK experienced a water shortage as a result of a desalination plant in the central Al Nakheel area breaking down. In response FEWA announced plans in December 2011 to build a new desalination plant in the emirate, with a capacity of 15m gallons per day. The project, which is expected to be completed by 2014, will primarily supply water for industrial use.

Additionally, in early 2012 FEWA completed work on two 5m-gallon reservoirs in RAK. The two tanks, which cost Dh21m ($5.7m) to construct, will hold enough water to supply the emirate for two full days in an emergency situation. According to Mohammed Mohammed Saleh, the director-general of FEWA, the authority is also in the process of building two 10m-gallon tanks in RAK.

A CENTRE FOR SUSTAINABILITY: RAK’s recent investments in environmental protection and alternative power have the potential to turn the emirate into a regional leader in clean energy and water in the coming years. The RAK Environment Protection and Development Authority (EPDA) has worked closely with the federal Ministry of Environment and Water to introduce programmes aimed at reducing the emirate’s environmental footprint.

The authority, which was set up by royal decree in 2007, oversees a number of initiatives, including a recurring desert clean-up effort; a programme to monitor and curb dust emissions at major industrial plants; and a wide variety of educational programming for schools and the general public.

In early March 2011 the EPDA organised an international conference entitled “Global Warming: Water and Land Use”, which took place at the Al Hamra Convention Centre in RAK and was hosted by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the emirate’s ruler.

The conference attracted guest speakers from a number of major US-based organisations, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Maryland.

SOLAR WORKS: The Centre Suisse d’Électronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM), a Switzerland-based sustainable energy firm that established a presence in RAK in 2005 as part of a joint venture with RAKIA, is developing a number of ambitious new solar technologies and processes in the emirate.

The company’s flagship project involves floating massive solar arrays in the shallow waters off RAK. The “solar island” project, which was still under development as of mid-2012, has attracted attention from solar energy firms around the world.

CSEM is also working on a number of other projects, including solar-powered air conditioners and solar polygeneration technology, which could potentially boost efficiency at power and desalination plants. Finally, the firm is currently working to set up a testing facility for new solar and new thermal technologies, which may have the potential to eventually attract more alternative energy firms to move ahead with setting up their operations within RAK.

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