Powering through: seasonal demands complicate the emirate's already stretched energy services

The strain on Dubai's power resources are being stretched to breaking point. Now, as the summer months bring with them peak demand, Christopher Sell looks at how the emirate's power supply is managing to stay on track.

Festival City is one of Aggreko?s biggest projects. When at full capacity, the company had between 60 and 70 generators onsite.
Festival City is one of Aggreko?s biggest projects. When at full capacity, the company had between 60 and 70 generators onsite.

Powering Dubai's developments is one of the most pressing issues facing the city as it continues its rapid development. With the sheer number and scale of developments in the emirate showing no sign of slowing down, combined with greater technological integration in buildings, not to mention the meteorological fluctuations, the state of power supply in the emirate is as pertinent as ever.

A few months ago, Construction Week highlighted the plight of the current electricity resources keeping up with the growing demand on power generation and distribution.

Despite DEWA's announcement in March this year that it was going to invest $13.6 billion (AED 50 billion) in boosting its power generating capacity by 2010, the current problem lies mainly with the distribution of electricity.

"DEWA has got the generation and the power plants, and it invests well in power stations," says Derek Shepherd, managing director, Aggreko. "But physically, cables and power lines need to be connected and because of all the construction activity, DEWA can't get to the locations quick enough to supply the connections on time. And developers are in so much of a rush that they want to open buildings straight away."

This has increased the demand on temporary power generators, which is exacerbated with the peak demand being felt as Dubai moves into the summer months. According to Murali Vasudevan, assistant manager, Swaidan Trading, part of the Al Naboodah Group, this trend has remained, with the weight of construction continuing to place pressure on the power supply.

"The general trend in the region is that demand is much more than supply. DEWA is implementing projects to triple the existing capacity, which should be in place in the near future."

However, Vasudevan adds that requirements for recently released property places a further burden on power supplies. "It is mandatory for the new buildings to have stand-by power, hence requirement will continue to increase as new projects are announced."

Although it's been involved in the construction and trading industries for some time, the company only actively got involved in generators in 1998, and has since then focussed on providing power to various construction and contracting companies at their project sites. "The market for generators has been growing exponentially, both locally as well as in the re-export segment. Our company anticipated the surge in demand from the construction sector and we positioned ourselves well to cater to the demands of the market place," adds Vasudevan. He anticipates a continuation of this pattern. "The current trend in demand is expected to continue the same way for the foreseeable future."

Efforts are also being made to oversee product improvements in the areas of emission standards, control panels and sound attenuation.

With so much construction work absorbing a vast range of energy to keep the plethora of machinery and plant systems running, the current boom is drawing on the limited resources of the emirate as much as finished projects. But for the boom to continue, the ability to meet demand is paramount.

"The need for temporary power during construction is obvious," adds Shepherd. "When there is no grid, you need to generate your own power supply. What we do here in the Middle East, particularly in Dubai where so much infrastructure is going on, is to power cranes, concrete mixing plants, crushing plants, labour camps and site offices right through to the commissioning of the buildings. We run the air conditioning, pumps and dry the buildings out before DEWA makes its connection, and we sometimes actually run completed buildings."

Festival City is one of the Aggreko's biggest projects, which at its peak had 60-70 generators on site. The company is also involved with Business Bay, Dubai Marina, the Palm islands, Arabian Ranches and Jumeirah Lake Towers. And this involvement is not short term. Shepherd expects involvement in these projects to last up to seven years for Festival City, despite getting on board four years ago, and another three years at Dubai Marina.

And it isn't merely in Dubai that Aggreko is assisting projects to avoid shortages. In the wider Middle East region, the company is supplying multi-megawatt distributed generation support at several sites in Yemen (160MW) and Saudi Arabia (60MW). It has also provided 11MW for seasonal ‘peak shaving' support in Oman.

In a bid to meet the incessant demand from contractors and developers for power, the temporary power generation and transmission industry is facing testing times. In fact, Shepherd is of the opinion that the end of this boom is certainly not in sight for the time being.

"Our business in Dubai is growing by about 40% a year because there is so much construction going on. I see Dubai as being probably about half-way through its development. There is a lot more to do here and the money is here to do it," adds Shepherd.

Seasonal strain

The power black-out that gripped Dubai in the summer of 2005 brought into focus just how reliant the city is on its energy supply. Disruption to mobile phone networks and chaos on the city's roads ensued. Lifts, computers and air conditioning units stopped working, while water supply was lost in some areas.

The summer months are the most demanding, since it is when the two biggest power-consuming categories, air conditioning and desalination plants, are at their most active.

"The probability is always there due to an acute increase in electricity demand making many of the generation units run frequently at extreme summer conditions," says Dr Abdalla M. Al Amiri, chairman of the Emirates Energy Award committee, which recognises best practice in energy conservation and management.

"There is also a drop in reliability of some of the ageing electricity generation units across the GCC countries, which bring about unpredicted system failure on many occasions.

"Utility companies are concerned with the reliability of their systems and in the summer they must be able to cope with the increase in demand."

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