Power Play

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As demand continues to rise, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is looking to bolster its power infrastructure. With plans for several new power plants under way, the emirate is following a strategy that utilises both traditional and sustainable energy sources, falling in line with global trends to maintain efficiency and respecting environmental concerns.

The need for greater power capacity was highlighted this summer, with power cuts regularly affecting areas in the northern emirates. Sharjah was most affected by the cuts, but regular power and water outages were also reported in RAK by local media. Peak energy demand coincides with the hot summer months and people turning to their air conditioning units. Electricity infrastructure throughout the region is straining to keep up with the demands of growing populations and industrial activity in recent years.

While RAK has a relatively small population – at an estimated 231,000 – its industrial sector is coming into its own. The RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ), for example, enjoyed steady growth through both 2008 and 2009, defying global recessionary trends. It hosted close to 5500 companies at the end of last year and has sought to add another 2000 by the end of this year. It had recruited 900 new companies by the end of the first half.

In an indication of the health of the industrial sector, RAK Ceramics – one of the largest industrial players in the emirate – expanded production by 10% this year, despite rocky global conditions. It now exports to 126 countries, with strong demand from regional emerging markets like Iraq and Algeria, according to media reports.

The RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) has been at the forefront of promoting industry as a means of growth for the emirate over the past several years. It has registered 450 industries to date and invested billions of dollars in development. So, with so much focus on industrial growth and actual production increasing continually, significant strain is being placed on utility infrastructure.

As is the case elsewhere in the region, water supply remains a challenge. With limited freshwater resources, the UAE depends heavily on energy-intensive desalination processes. RAK is chipping away at the issue through both public and private solutions. The Al Ghurair Group, a UAE-based retail, manufacturing and industry investment company, recently broke ground on the first membrane sewage treatment plant in the emirate, located in the village of Masafi, which will increase efficiency and produce water suitable for irrigation. Currently, Masafi must bring in all its water via tankers.

Greater capacity is on the way. In April the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) announced plans for a 10m-gallon-per-day desalination plant in RAK scheduled for completion in 2011.

Meanwhile, RAK has been steadily moving towards increased power capacity throughout the year despite challenges stemming from the recession. In March RAKIA announced plans to build a 400-500-MW coal-fired plant over the next two years, with a scope to eventually expand capacity to 1000 MW, making it by far the biggest power plant in the emirate. RAK already uses coal to power its cement factories. RAKIA officials said it would utilise the latest technology available to minimise the environmental impact of coal. The feedstock will come from a joint-venture coal mine in Indonesia that is expected to yield 15m tonnes a year by 2014, 8m-9m of which will be exported to the emirate.

RAKIA is also pursuing large-scale green energy solutions, including the construction of a solar “island” that would eventually be anchored in the sea and used to create a thermal energy reservoir for steam turbine electricity plants. The plan is currently undergoing feasibility studies and RAKIA recently announced that it may expand the proposed dimensions of the solar island based on promising initial results.

Until new plans come on-line, the supply-demand imbalance is set to remain. In November RAK secured 400 MW from the federal power grid in order to ease the power gap in the short term. While this new supply will help to ease the shortfall now, more expansive long-term solutions are needed – and the emirate seems to be well on its way to finding both traditional and green answers.

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