The population of the Middle East is expected to grow by 31 per cent by 2025 while GDP is predicted to rise by 4.3 percent by 2020. Such rapid population growth—especially in urban centres—paired with economic expansion and urbanisation, means greater demands are continuously being placed on the electric transmission and distribution networks of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As a result, the quantity and quality of power delivered by the grid is being increasingly thrown under the microscope. Year-on-year growth in peak power demand has reached 15 per cent in Jordan, and power demand in the MENA region as a whole is set to continue growing by seven per cent annually in the coming decade. Given summer temperatures averaging 45 degrees Celsius in Saudi Arabia, for example, the load put onto the grid by air conditioning can be considerable.
In addition, the region’s heavy industries, including oil, gas and steel production, account for a large portion of the power consumed. They require immense amounts of safe, consistent power to maximize efficiency and operational productivity. However, a lack of national investment in transmission and distribution networks can create energy challenges for industry, in the form of low quality power – meaning the frequency of alternating current reaching industrial sites can be unstable. This instability in the electricity supplying machines in heavy industry can result in downtime or even permanent damage.
Further investment is certainly needed in the Middle East in order to introduce grid improvements and clean power. As my colleague wrote about the power quality landscape in China, we’re seeing four themes:
1. Increasing the efficiency of energy transportation through the use of HVDC transmission. The first of these HVDC substations was built in the Middle East in 2008 as an 1800MW interconnection between Saudi Arabia’s 380 kV -60Hz network and the Gulf State’s 400kV – 50Hz network.
2. Electrifying industry, reducing demands for electricity with electric motors and drives operating more efficiently
3. Integrating renewables, allowing on-site power generation for heavy industry, potentially delivering a clean source of power on site, and managing grid stability with an increased proportion of renewable power. For example, Saudi Electricity Co has recently invited companies to build, own and operate Saudi Arabia’s first fossil-fuel fired power plant to use solar energy to cut carbon emissions.
4. Intelligent networks, increasing the resilience of power distribution and reducing the risk of blackouts
Particularly relevant in the Middle East is the need for robust converter technology. Power consumption always increases in summer time when cooling loads in buildings reach their annual peak levels. This power challenge may call for a ‘peak load shifting’ strategy, requiring variable load plants to start and stop at a high frequency. Converters are essential as they permit the power plant to re-start very quickly, thus making the power grid more stable and producing electricity more efficiently.
While working alongside governments to make the necessary investments in power infrastructure, the region’s heavy industries are also continuing to explore their own options to gain access to the safe, consistent power they need. This will allow them to remain productive as national grids work to keep up with growing demand.