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Sat 10 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

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When the lights go out

Sharjah is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Sharjah is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

For residents and firms based in Sharjah, the end-of-summer heat has been even more oppressive than usual as a result of the ongoing power cuts that have blighted the emirate on a daily basis for over a month.

And at the time of writing, there has been precious little word from the Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (SEWA) about either the cause of the outages, or what is currently being done to prevent them.  As locations like Sharjah strive to attract foreign investment into their rapidly growing industrial heartlands, the lack of basic utilities provision comes as a severe blow.

SEWA's silence confirms what everyone already knows; that there is no quick fix. The agency cannot just bring new plants online and there is little capacity going spare elsewhere in the UAE. In a report released in August, the Federal Electricity & Water Authority (FEWA) was criticised by a Federal National Council (FNC) committee for failing to provide enough power for new homes and businesses.

So what's the solution for Sharjah and the Northern Emirates? The advent of nuclear power will help, but as the UAE readies to award its first contracts in this field, it seems unlikely that nuclear plants will be up and running within the next decade. Likewise, renewable energies still have some way to go before they can start helping with the shortfall.

Furthermore, the inter-GCC connection grid, with which the UAE will link up at some point in 2010, promises to add extra capacity during peak periods. However, with every GCC nation struggling to cope with consumer demand, it is tough to see where the surplus capacity will come from.

Perhaps the biggest change that Sharjah, and the rest of the GCC, needs right now is a social one. Populations aren't going to start shrinking, and projects are still continuing at a massive pace.

Agencies such as SEWA need to invest significantly in programmes that will educate the public and they also need to come up with incentives that will encourage companies to use electricity in a more efficient and varied manner, and at different times during the day. Applying common sense to the consumer conundrum is the only way to obtain immediate results.

Ed Attwood is the editor of Utilities Middle East.

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