Interview: Saif Al Qubaisi
How is smart grid technology being implemented to develop a more comprehensive method for managing system performance?
SAIF AL QUBAISI: Smart grid technology is having a significant global impact on how utilities manage their networks, including here in Abu Dhabi. For example, we have invested in technology such as network automation, which allows distribution companies to diagnose and restore supplies remotely, improving restoration time. We have also enhanced our trouble management systems to enable faster diagnosis of problems than was previously the case. This additional information not only allows us to respond more quickly to outages but also provides better data so that investments can be better targeted. On the supply side, we have been exploring demand management and have conducted pilot projects in Abu Dhabi. For instance, dynamic response can be used to control air conditioning chillers. In this case, chiller loads are interrupted in a controlled manner over a relatively short period in a way that does not affect building occupants. This results in lower overall peak demand. Smart grids enable this to be done more efficiently by linking demand-side resources with the central transmission dispatch system.
How is the bureau encouraging greater accountability on the part of utilities companies?
AL QUBAISI: As the regulator, we are continually refining our processes to drive more accountability within utilities companies; part of our responsibility is to protect customers. One of our primary mechanisms in this regard is the price control process. Price control sets the maximum allowed revenues for firms, and by doing so applies an efficiency challenge that companies have to meet. Under the current price control mechanism, for example, we have introduced a demand side management (DSM) incentive whereby distribution companies must develop and implement a DSM strategy that will have a significant impact on end-use efficiency for electricity and water consumption. Another incentive focuses on quality of supply, but this has been enhanced to ensure companies focus more on the performance of their networks in order to more accurately target improvements. We are also developing an asset management incentive that will drive greater efficiency in this important area. We are improving the way capital investment is assessed to provide more clarity, as well as options for delivering optimum solutions. Collectively these initiatives will achieve greater accountability on the part of utilities companies and deliver improvements in service.
What factors need to be considered in deciding whether thermal or reverse osmosis (RO) technology should be used in the desalination process?
AL QUBAISI: The power and water sector has a large and established installed base for thermal desalination as part of the existing cogeneration fleet. Increasingly, however, the technology and cost base for RO is making it a much more attractive technology. The question of which should be selected for use in Abu Dhabi is complex, but, ultimately, once technical and environmental viability is established for a particular expansion project, we need to make decisions based on what is the most economic solution from a system-wide perspective. Abu Dhabi’s energy mix is indeed changing rapidly, with a clear de-coupling of power generation and water production given the commitment to the nuclear programme, which will introduce 5600 MW and provide 25% of installed capacity by 2020, as well as a focus on renewable energy. Given the base load nature of new plants, the economic argument for RO is becoming much stronger, especially during low-power-demand winter months when water demand remains high. The challenge has historically been the quality and salinity of water in the Gulf, but this can now be mitigated effectively through improvements in RO technology. So, while overall the factors involved in capacity expansion can be more complex, the flexibility, modularity and system-based case for RO is strengthening.
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