Gas is a critical transitional energy for the country, as it represents a first stepping stone towards hydrogen.

Christopher SEYMOUR Head of Strategy and Investment, Middle East, Africa and South Asia MOTT MACDONALD

The role of gas and hydrogen in the UAE’s energy mix

December 13, 2023

Christopher Seymour, Mott MacDonald’s head of strategy and investment for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, talks to The Energy Year about the role of gas in the region’s diversifying energy mix and the challenges in developing hydrogen. Mott MacDonald is a global engineering, management and development consultancy.

How determined is the UAE to diversify its power mix, and what role will gas play?
The current power consumption in the UAE predominantly revolves around natural gas but we are seeing solar power, coming from CSP [concentrated solar power] and PV projects, becoming more important.
The Barakah nuclear power plant recently saw the start-up of Unit 3 which is also an important addition to the country’s ever-more-diversified energy mix. The energy diet is shifting, and despite the push for cleaner energies, natural gas is and will continue to be essential in years to come.
Gas is a critical transitional energy for the country, as it represents a first stepping stone towards hydrogen. Secondly, modern gas turbines are highly efficient and compete well against oil- and coal-fired plants. The future of this country does hold a less hydrocarbons-based energy mix, but the renewables arena still needs to advance to replace oil and gas entirely as the country progresses towards net zero by 2050
Related to this is the ambitious quest to reduce carbon emissions. This was clear with the 1,200-MW Hassyan clean coal complex, initially projected to be the first clean-coal-fired power plant in the GCC region, but that is now being converted to gas. This shows the commitment to reduce emissions via cleaner and greener sources of energy, including gas.

What challenges are found in developing hydrogen and what role does green ammonia play?
Hydrogen is rapidly gaining traction in this region, and accordingly, more purposeful investment is being seen in green hydrogen, although market development is required for off-takers. There are several challenges in this hydrogen journey, and funding is the major one, as most investments are unlikely to close before an off-taker is found. The main barrier is therefore creating that market to achieve economic viability.
Hydrogen has been used in pretty much every industrial process for years but on a much more contained scale inside industrial plants. The key to making it a widespread economically viable source of energy is scale. There is also the need for top-down financial support, as private actors cannot hold all the financial burden of projects of this nature. The UAE and other countries in the region have important investments coming from a governmental level.
Recently, green ammonia projects have been considered as one option for solving the issue of transportation and storage. The industry is more familiarised with ammonia as it has been transported for years. It also works, to a large extent, with existing infrastructure.
However, we could say that green ammonia is not so much a vector for green hydrogen – because it is carrying the hydrogen with it – but a vector for renewable energy. Power coming from wind or solar farms can be transformed into hydrogen, which in turn can be transformed into green ammonia as a means for storage and transport, as it is easily movable in a liquefied form. A shipment of green ammonia is basically a shipment of renewable energy.


What impact do you anticipate from the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) in the coming years?
CCUS technology continues to advance, and it has long been developed in the Middle East and the surrounding region. It is part of the process for creating hydrogen from natural gas and can also assist industrial companies in their quest for net zero. Technological development continues, and despite the challenges regarding economic viability, we expect CCUS to play a greater role in the transition to net zero for most countries.

How important is the area of power transmission and how viable would a GCC power grid be?
Power transmission is an important area for us. Transmission is often overlooked, but is also essential. What’s more, with greater investment around new renewables, this area has become far more interesting, complex and critical.
Different integration techniques are being used now because we combine different power sources with different periods, instead of using a single source of power. This comes with the use of various intermittent sources of energy, and a far more diversified energy mix. The area of power transmission is now far more technical and demanding, and thus we have found potential in this niche area.
A further conversation goes beyond having national transmission lines, and having a GCC grid. Technically speaking it could be viable, and would make sense given the scattered nature of power generation across the GCC. Both the northwest coast of Saudi Arabia and the east coast of Oman provide viable wind power. Further, we have solar potential across the whole region. Thus, a GCC power grid represents an interesting solution moving forwards.

What is Mott MacDonald’s targeted position in the local and regional energy industry?
Our focus is to become the consultant choice around the energy transition, focusing on the diversification of the power mix this country is experiencing. We are focusing on power sources that will power the wider region’s future including CSP and PV solar initiatives, offshore wind, hydrogen, and ammonia. This is an opportunity we should not miss, and an area where we can bring positive value to the nation. This is where we see our growth not only in the UAE, but also in the rest of the region, India and Africa.

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