With demand for electricity and water forecast to keep rising, Qatar continues to make substantial investments in new production. Led by Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC), the public stake-holding company and chief sector player, in 2015 authorities completed one project and initiated two others. The goal is to raise the country’s electricity generation capacity from a total of 8.6 GW in 2015 to 13 GW by 2018, or 15%, while water desalination capacity is set to increase 85% in that span.
QEWC and its subsidiaries alone will implement projects expanding their total production capacity from 8600 MW to 11,000 MW by mid-2018, according to a November 2015 statement by Fahad Hamad Al Mohannadi, the company’s general manager.
To these ends, a major project for an independent water producer (IWP) in desalination was completed in November 2015. The Ras Abu Fontas (RAF) A2 plant, around 10 km south of Doha, was built under a $504m turnkey contract tendered by QEWC in January 2013, financed by four local banks (Qatar National Bank, Barwa Bank, Masraf Al Rayan and Qatar Islamic Bank), advised on by HSBC, Norton Rose Fulbright and Simmons & Simmons, and executed over the next three years by a consortium of Japan’s Mitsubishi, Thailand’s engineering and construction firm Toyo Thai, and Hitachi Zosen, a Japanese industrial engineering firm that installed the desalination components. Using power from the nearby RAF B2 power plant, RAF A2 can desalinate some 36m gallons of water per day, employing a multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) process.
In November 2015, a day after the RAF A2 plant was inaugurated, the cornerstone was laid on another IWP expansion, RAF A3. This desalination project, which will similarly cost $500m and have a capacity of 36m gallons a day, was awarded to Mitsubishi the previous May under a 25-year turnkey contract, with the first phase scheduled for completion by early 2017. Joining Mitsubishi in its implementation are Toyo Thai and Acciona, a Spanish engineering firm that will build the desalination units, as well as maintain and operate them for 10 years, for $300m. Acciona is assisting similar desalination projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with respective capacities of 100,000 and 137,000 cu metres per day.
The new plants under construction illustrate how the country is updating its technology to improve efficiency. At present the most common desalination method used in Qatar is MSF, employed at the new RAF A2 plant. Under this system, seawater is first heated in a brine heater before passing into a vacuum evaporator where it boils into steam. This vapour is transferred through “heat exchanger” tubes – which are cooled by the same water that is on its way to supply the brine heater – that condense it to produce fresh water. After a further passage from high atmospheric pressure to low, the final liquid is then pumped along a 183-km pipeline network for storage in reservoirs and further distribution on demand. Though these systems are energy-intensive, the low prices of fuel inputs in Qatar have made MSF a viable and reliable method for desalination for the country.
In a significant shift, however, RAF A3 will be the first plant in Qatar to use (on a large scale, at least) the method of reverse osmosis (RO), which is more energy-efficient than MSF. Previously, QEWC had tested RO desalination at a station it acquired in 2003, at a site in Dukhan, converting 750 cu metres per day of high-salinity water. According to Al Mohannadi, such RO systems – which send saline water through a treated, semi-permeable membrane – cost 40% less than thermal desalination, partly because, unlike with MSF, seawater used in the distillation process can be returned to the sea without the use of a gas-powered turbine. In addition, he said, this returned water has no impact on the temperature of the body of water into which it is re-injected, unlike thermal-based systems – a change that is friendlier to the environment and fits well with Qatar’s sustainability goals. Crucially as well, because no heating of the seawater is needed, RO plants use much less energy than thermal ones. A final advantage is longer-term storage capability, which under thermal desalination was limited to 24 hours, exacerbating any shortfalls caused when units halt production, such as during maintenance, according to Mahmoud Abou-Madi, head of planning and efficiency at QEWC.
The largest project to be launched of late, an independent water and power project (IWPP) to be built in Umm Al Houl near one of the country’s three special economic zones (SEZs) about 20 km south of Doha, will likewise make use of RO. The new combined-cycle IWPP, known as Facility D (the fourth such project in Qatar), will have a generation capacity of 2520 MW of electricity and 136.5m gallons of water per day, making it one of the largest such projects in the Middle East.
The project was awarded to Mitsubishi in mid-2015 and will see its first stage completed in 2017, reaching full operation in 2018 at a total cost of QR11bn ($3bn). At that point, it will supply nearly one-quarter of Qatar’s electricity. The project’s sponsors put up 15% of the financing required for the project, with the rest borrowed from local and international banks.
The development process for the IWPP has been fairly straightforward. Kahramaa, which is the sole buyer of power and water produced in the country, first set up a special purpose company, Umm Al Houl Power, to manage the project’s execution on a supervisory level. Bids for a chief developer were then solicited in May 2014, and after being shortlisted the contract was awarded in May 2015 to Mitsubishi, which now owns a 30% stake in Umm Al Houl Power alongside QEWC (60%), Qatar Petroleum (5%) and Qatar Foundation (5%). In its bid, the Japanese firm in turn created a joint venture called K1 Energy, in which it owns 98.5% and Tokyo Electric Power Company owns a 1.5% stake (though this was later increased to 33.3%). Under the contract, K1 Energy will build, own and operate the IWPP for 25 years, selling all of its output to Kahramaa under an exclusive power and water purchase agreement, after which period ownership will be transferred to QEWC.
Other contracts for various components continued to be contracted during the rest of 2015. Towards the end of May the construction package was awarded to Hitachi Zosen, an engineering spin-off of the Japanese conglomerate. Two months later, in July 2015, Mitsubishi subcontracted a $1.8bn package of engineering, procurement and construction works to Samsung, which has carried out similar projects in the UAE and South Korea. By October Samsung had in turn placed an order with German engineering giant Siemens for the plant’s turbine systems, including six gas-fired turbines, four steam turbines and 10 electric generators, as well as technical support for the building and commissioning. “All the major components of the project have now been tendered, from boilers and distillers to turbines and RO systems,” Jamal Ali Al Khalaf, CEO of Umm Al Houl Power, told OBG in November 2015. The foundation stone for the project was laid by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, prime minister and minister of interior, in March 2016.
Besides using RO, a further technology advantage of the new IWPP compared with older plants will be its storage facilities. These will be Priestus cylindrical tanks instead of the conventional rectangular ones – the latter are more susceptible to deterioration at the corners, according to Al Khalaf. “Not only does this enable zero leakage, which is guaranteed over the contract period; it also means a faster speed of construction,” he told OBG.
A related challenge for Qatar utilities is the high salinity of the Gulf. At 40 parts per thousand (ppt) or even 50 ppt by some estimates, compared with 34-36 ppt typical for oceans and 38 ppt in the Mediterranean Sea, this affects the life of RO membranes and renders the pre-treatment process more difficult. However, Al Khalaf said the salinity is somewhat less on Qatar’s eastern shore, where the plant is located.
The IWPP’s location has other purposes as well. Situated within Qatar’s new SEZ near Hamad Port – itself wedged between Al Wakrah and Mesaieed Industrial City – the plant will be able to supply water and power to all of these areas with minimal transmission and distribution infrastructure. The SEZ will cater to businesses in light manufacturing, offering a range of incentives and services, with the first handover of land to tenants scheduled for the first quarter of 2018 (see Industry chapter). The nearby $7.4bn Hamad Port will eventually have a capacity of more than 6m containers a year, split between three terminals and covering some 20 sq km. Partial operations at the port commenced in late December 2015, and it is set to receive its first container ships in mid-2016.