Driving Abu Dhabi’s energy transitionMay 31, 2021
H.E. Eng. Awaidha Murshed Ali Al Marar, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy (DoE), talks to The Energy Year about the impact of technology, digitalisation and IPPs on the local energy industry and how the DoE is fostering sustainability in the energy mix. The DoE is a regulatory agency created in 2018 to drive Abu Dhabi’s energy transition.
What measures have been adopted by the DoE during the Covid-19 crisis to ensure continuity in the provision of energy?
From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we prioritised working to prevent interruptions to energy and water supplies in the emirate.
We also worked to ensure business continuity across all sectors because, after all, the energy sector powers all other industries. This was essentially a safeguard against any interruptions in operations, and allowed other important sectors to sustain their operations, enhance their performance and provide better services for the community.
There were several measures that we set in motion in order to support individuals and businesses during the pandemic, including offering alternative options and support procedures to resolve water and electricity non-payment issues.
One example of this is the DoE’s Decision No. (10) of 2020, part of the government’s economic stimulus package, which ensured continuous access to electricity and water services for all consumers, even if they faced difficulty settling their outstanding bills. Distribution companies were also instructed not to issue suspension notices or suspend services during the period from March to September 2021, even in cases where it was required for reasons other than failure to pay dues.
The DoE also launched the “Use It Wisely” campaign in April 2020 to promote energy rationalisation in the emirate and the UAE, and to promote behaviour that supports the UAE’s efforts towards sustainable development and prosperity. Rationalisation became more of a necessity than ever during the lockdown period, when people spent almost all of their time at home.
What role has technology played in developing Abu Dhabi’s energy mix, electricity generation and water desalination?
Technology plays a great role in every sector. It has fundamentally transformed the way everything is done – and this is very noticeable in the energy sector. Here in Abu Dhabi, we have embraced these breakthroughs, and used them to drastically transform the energy sector in record time.
We now see advanced renewable energy sources increasingly growing their share of the energy mix. In 2020, Abu Dhabi produced 2.16 million MWh of electricity from renewable energy sources, bringing the installed renewable energy capacity, out of the total energy installed capacity in the emirate, to 5.9%. And when the 2-GW Al Dhafra solar project is completed by 2022, this share will have increased to 12.8%.
We can add to that the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, which will be fully operational within four years, bringing total renewable and nuclear energy capacity to 8.8 GW, which will represent more than 31% of the generation capacity mix in the emirate.
When it comes to desalinated water, we are growing our use of advanced reverse osmosis (RO) technology, which is far less energy intensive than other methods. Abu Dhabi is building the Al Taweelah Power and Water Complex, set to be the largest water desalination plant in the world. This new facility will rely on RO technology and construction is expected to be completed in 2022 at an estimated total cost of AED 3.1 billion [USD 844 million]. Once fully operational, the plant will produce about 200 million imperial gallons of desalinated water per day – 909,200 cubic metres.
How is digitalisation changing day-to-day administrative activities?
We have actively been working to digitise services and day-to-day operations for quite some time. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit and demand for digital services and activities skyrocketed, we had to shift gears and speed up the digitisation process. Overall, we now have a total of 109 e-services offered across various government platforms, representing 76.2% of all government services provided to the energy sector in Abu Dhabi. The total number of transactions completed online or through digital platforms such as TAMM in the first half of 2020 numbered approximately 2 million. These smart services helped ensure business continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.
We also launched the Abu Dhabi Integrated Energy Model (IEM) as a comprehensive overview of the energy system for policy makers, business leaders and investors, and provide perspectives into the future up to the year 2050. In addition, we have launched an Energy Modelling Capability Build programme, using a modelling and analytical tool supported by Energy Exemplar’s Plexos application, to manage uncertainty and support complex decision making. The application serves four key functions: regional price forecasting, regulatory filing analysis, fuel budgeting, and financial forecasting. It also has an advanced modelling feature that allows users to include various fuels and fuel contracts, power transmission and water lines, unit commitment and technical constraints, in addition to modelling emissions, reserves and batteries.
What specific steps is the DoE taking to help tech companies and e-solution providers flourish in the local energy industry?
This is an important objective for the UAE government and we have a big part to play in making it happen. It is indeed our responsibility to help these companies and we have done a lot to meet that responsibility.
An example of our support is our sponsorship of the Technology Innovation Pioneers (TIP) Summit 2020, which is an initiative by the UAE Ministry of Economy and the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi. The Summit is aligned with the UAE National Innovation Strategy. The 2020 Summit unveiled the next generation of innovative solutions that can redefine economies and industries, and solve many of the sectors’ challenges. The Abu Dhabi Department of Energy is committed to promoting knowledge and supporting research into advanced technologies, and with that in mind, we have signed several agreements with influential partners in these sectors.
What does the Barakah plant mean for the nation’s domestic energy mix in the long run and how will its opening reduce gas feedstock demand?
Completing the first unit of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is a major step forward in overhauling the UAE’s energy mix towards clean and sustainable energy and it shows our commitment to the UAE Energy Strategy 2050.
The AED 90-billion [USD 24.5-billion] project boasts a total production capacity of 5,600 MW through four reactors. It will cut the UAE’s carbon emissions by 21 million tonnes per year, equivalent to removing 3.2 million vehicles from the roads.
Barakah Unit 1 began commercial operations in April 2021 in a historic milestone that significantly enhances the sustainability of our entire power sector. Next will be Barakah Unit 2, which received an operating licence earlier this year and is scheduled to commence commercial operations later in 2021.
Moving on to the next part of your question, I would have to say reducing gas feedstock demand is part of a greater strategy we have here in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 was launched in 2017 and aims for 50% of the UAE’s energy needs to come from clean sources, including 44% from renewable energy and the remaining 6% from nuclear energy by 2050. We plan to offer nuclear and clean energy alongside gas to meet the UAE’s electricity needs, ultimately reducing our reliance on gas for electricity generation.
Nuclear energy is safer than most other sources when it comes to delivering reliable, steady, and stable energy. Its low carbon emissions make it a promising way forward to a cleaner, greener world.
What role can public-private partnerships play in unlocking capital and securing know-how and technology for renewable energy projects going forward?
Abu Dhabi has invested more than AED 9 billion [USD 2.45 billion] in renewable energy. This has allowed the sector to record a number of achievements in a relatively short period of time. The plan is to continue investing in the renewable and clean energy sector in the years ahead, and to build strong partnerships between the government and the private sector to make that happen. It has allowed us to maximise the benefits we draw from private-sector expertise and international capital and bolster competition as we lay the groundwork for new and potentially bigger projects. This is a great option for us that allows us to tap into the private sector’s capabilities and efficiency to establish efficient projects and offer quality services at lower costs.
How has the IPP model helped improve sustainability in the sector?
Introducing IPPs in Abu Dhabi has played a big part in our ability to meet rising electricity and water demand. IPPs now represent the majority of new capacity. They continue to replace and scale up older power and desalination plants and introduce new renewables projects.
IPP projects have proven to be quicker and more cost-effective to execute as tendering is based on competitive bids. This has encouraged developers to use technology and innovation to find greater efficiencies, which has resulted in more competitive costs. The recent solar levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) developments are a very good example. We expect that competitive trend to continue with new IPPs remaining at the forefront of our strategy to add and integrate new renewable energy projects.
What are the DoE’s efforts towards creating the right waste-to-energy ecosystem?
The DoE has always supported the growth of a waste-to-energy market in Abu Dhabi. Before we announced the upcoming plants, we issued the Policy for Energy Production from Waste (EFW), which is the result of collaborative efforts between the DoE and various entities in the emirate.
These include Abu Dhabi Development Holding Company (ADQ), the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center (Tadweer), Abu Dhabi Power Corporation, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA), Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC), Abu Dhabi Transmission & Despatch Company (TRANSCO), Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, Department of Municipalities and Transport in Abu Dhabi, and Masdar City.
The policy outlines a set of relevant procedures, most notably co-ordination between the energy and waste management sectors in Abu Dhabi.
In light of the recently established Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance, what role is Abu Dhabi’s DoE planning to play to help advance the hydrogen industry in the country?
Hydrogen technology has great potential to provide a clean, reliable, renewable and economical source of energy. With the recently announced Hydrogen Alliance, ADNOC is leading the emirate’s efforts to develop this promising sector for internal consumption, while also exploring the potential to export to countries where generation costs might be significantly higher.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Energy is fully committed to supporting the growth of a hydrogen economy in Abu Dhabi. We have recently signed an MoU on hydrogen co-operation with Siemens, Etihad Airways, Masdar, Marubeni and Khalifa University, reflecting our collective commitment to developing a hydrogen ecosystem in the emirate.
We believe Abu Dhabi is well positioned to exploit this modern fuel and drive the growth of the hydrogen market both in the MENA region and globally. Adding hydrogen to our energy mix in Abu Dhabi will support our economic diversification and sustainable development strategies.
What objectives has the DoE set out for 2021 and beyond when it comes to controlling emissions, reducing the flaring of natural gas and increasing the emirate’s energy efficiency?
We are putting a lot of effort into reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to curb climate change and ensure the energy sector’s sustainability and efficiency. In fact the entire Emirate of Abu Dhabi is committed to supporting the global climate change agenda and the transition towards clean and renewable energy systems.
The UAE’s target was to reduce its greenhouse gas (or GHG) emissions by 23.5% by 2030. The government has implemented an array of measures to mitigate climate change. The National Climate Change Plan, for example, seeks to outline a framework for controlling GHG emissions and dealing with the impact of climate change, while the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 aims to increase the share of clean energy to 50% by 2050, reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70% and increase consumption efficiency of all users (both individuals and companies) by 40%.
Moreover, we launched the Abu Dhabi Demand Side Management and Energy Rationalisation Strategy (DSM) 2030, which addresses supply and demand issues through a nine-programme multi-stakeholder approach that has a high potential to reduce electricity consumption by 22% and water consumption by 32% by 2030.
Implementing the DSM strategy will prevent more than 9 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent of removing 1.5 million vehicles from the road for an entire year.
In 2019, various DSM initiatives were implemented, including the establishment of Abu Dhabi’s first Energy Services Company (Super ESCO) to enable the retrofitting of buildings under an energy performance contracting model; initiation of pilot projects on key water accounts to optimise irrigation systems and reduce water demand in landscape areas; multiple street lighting initiatives and pilot programmes to install energy efficient LED and LED+solar luminaires in various parts of Abu Dhabi; the launch of the District Cooling Regulations, which will cut carbon emissions by nearly 3.25 million tonnes annually; and the installation of the world’s largest grid-scale advanced battery energy storage facility, with 108-MW sodium sulphur batteries with over six hours of energy storage capacity in 10 different locations in Abu Dhabi.
All of these initiatives have allowed us to achieve 5.67 GWh in cumulative electricity savings and 214 million cubic metres of cumulative water savings to date. This prevents approximately 2,924,000 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.