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Wed 25 Apr 2007 11:16 AM

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Keeping our options open

Why GCC countries are right to look at power procurement from a number of sources.

The World Energy Council (WEC) has estimated that the GCC will need 100 000 MW of new power over the next ten years. GCC countries are investing heavily in increasing their generation capacities to meet this future demand - but they cannot be accused of being one-dimensional in their approach.

The interconnection grid is one example of GCC's efforts to face the challenge of meeting power demand together. Each country will receive extra capacity and face lower power generation costs. Deputy minister of energy Ali Bin Abdullah Al-Owais sees the grid as the first step in connecting the GCC to Africa and Europe, where lower-cost generation methods are used, so that power could be sourced more cheaply in future, and even sold in the winter when local demand is considerably lower.

The grid aside, GCC countries are cooperating on another level - nuclear power. The decisions of Iran and Egypt to pursue this option have raised the profile of nuclear energy in the region and the GCC is making sure it is not being left behind. Globally, on the other hand, 150 countries are already using nuclear energy, according to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei.

GCC representatives met with the IAEA in Vienna, in February, to discuss the development of a nuclear energy programme. In May, the IAEA is sending a team of specialists to the region to explore the possibility of building a research reactor. El-Baradei has said at least a decade of training would be required before the necessary levels of expertise were built up to make nuclear energy a reality in the GCC.

As for renewable energy, there is no GCC-wide project, but while there may be too little wind to generate large amounts of power, solar energy is gradually attracting more attention in the Middle East. Iran is working on a plant which combines solar power with natural gas and steam generation.

In the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is setting a fine example. Despite having over 90% of the UAE's hydrocarbon resources, the emirate is spending US $350 million on a solar power project to supply electricity to 10 000 homes.

With Abu Dhabi's oil reserves alone expected to last for 130 years, it would be easy to fall into complacency. But diversifying the methods of power generation, even to a small extent, can free up more hydrocarbons for export.

Though nuclear power will take a long time, and the ability to purchase power from different continents even longer, it is still important that the concepts are being looked at. Early planning will ensure GCC countries make more of their resources and pay less for their power procurement. It will also make for a smoother transition to a future without fossil fuels.

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