Energy Options

Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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With electricity demand expected to double by 2015, a hunger driven by a growing population and an even more rapidly expanding economy, Dubai has been weighing its options.

Currently, most of Dubai's electricity requirements are met by conventional gas-fired power stations. However, with the emirate's reserves of fossil fuels dwindling, Dubai faces the prospect of being a net energy importer or developing other sources to meet its electricity needs.

Dubai is one of the many states in the region that has expressed interest in building nuclear reactors to provide for its future energy needs. With an eye on Iran's atomic program, some have questioned the nuclear option for countries in the Gulf and beyond.

It is not just nuclear power that has come under consideration by Dubai as a solution to its growing energy needs, with the import option also being looked into.

On April 29, Iran and Dubai announced they were looking into constructing an undersea electricity link between the two countries. Saeed al-Tayer, managing director of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DWEA), signed a memorandum of understanding with the head of Iran's Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Company to expand co-operation. A part of this agreement includes conducting a feasibility study into a 180-km line to transfer more than 1000 MW of electricity annually from Iran to Dubai.

However, home-grown energy is at the forefront of Dubai's planning for the future, with innovation and alternative sources being the catch phrases most often heard.

Though it might come as a surprise, given its abundance of sun, Dubai has so far made little use of commercial solar energy, though this may be about to change.

Recently, Dubai unveiled plans to build a 68-storey building so energy efficient that it will actually produce more power than it consumes, with the revolving 312 metre high tower carrying solar panels and wind turbines that will generate enough electricity to meet the energy needs of five other similarly sized buildings.

Dubai's green energy concept is catching. In mid April, property developer Tecom Investments announced it was investigating whether it could use solar energy to provide electricity to some of its new projects, with one option being to install solar panels or cells into building materials such as windows.

In an April interview with the media, Dubai's head of state, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said the emirate had to make use of alternative energy sources.

"Even under a modest growth scenario, Dubai's electricity demand is expected to double by 2015," he said. "Trying to stay ahead of that kind of growth is going to become more and more challenging."

Given that Dubai's electricity consumption rose by some 30% last year alone, the challenge is even greater than Sheikh Mohammed outlined. However, he believes the answer to much of Dubai's needs lies with nature, with hitherto little regarded solar and wind energy offering a solution.

Such sources could also reduce the scale of another problem faced by Dubai, that of pollution. The increasing demand for electricity, along with rapid industrialisation, has raised carbon emission levels in the emirate. According to Sheikh Mohammed, the generation of 200MW of renewable energy would cut annual carbon emission rates by 1.5m tonnes.

Sheikh Mohammed has also called for the private sector to be more aware of the benefits of alternative energy and for the need for more efficient use of energy to reduce waste.

This expectation is being met by the water and electricity authority, which is conducting studies into the wider use of solar power, especially for use in desalination, solving two of Dubai's major problems, shortages of electricity and water, in one fell swoop. Local producers have also gotten into the act, supplying the growing domestic demand for solar hot water systems and wind powered air-conditioning units.

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