In this episode, Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj, Sr. Project Manager at EWEC, discusses with Easa Alzarooni, System Operations Executive Director, and Mark Hedges, Asset Management Executive Director, how EWEC’s low-carbon intensive water desalination and renewable energy projects contribute to decarbonising the energy sector.

The Current by EWEC: Q1 2023
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[00:00 - 00:21] Welcome to our Q1 2023 episode of The Current, a quarterly podcast by EWEC, the Emirates Water and Electricity Company. EWEC is a leading company in the integrated coordination of planning, purchasing, dispatch

[00:21 - 00:42] and supply of water and power across the UAE, dedicated to increasing the proportion of clean energy and reducing the region's carbon footprint. Throughout the series, we are speaking to a range of energy experts within EWEC to discuss the company's success and innovations, offer market updates, and take a closer look into

[00:42 - 01:03] the efforts being made towards a more sustainable future. I am Abdurrahman Omar Bafaraj, Senior Project Manager at EWEC. Today, we will discuss how EWEC's low-carbon-intensive water desalination and renewable energy projects contribute to decarbonizing the energy sector.

[01:03 - 01:24] In addition, we will discuss initiatives we have undertaken to support the UAE achieve its sustainability goals as the country gears up to host COP28 in the year of sustainability. Joining me for today's discussion are my colleagues at EWEC, Easa Alzarooni and Mark Hedges. Good morning, Abdurrahman.

[01:24 - 01:47] I'm Easa Alzarooni. I'm the Executive Director of Network Operations. It's a vast network of power and water starting from Al Salaa'a, from the border of Saudi Arabia up to Fujairah. So covering the demand for Abu Dhabi people and the Northern Emirates. I'm Mark Hedges, I'm the Executive Director for Asset Management within EWEC.

[01:47 - 02:08] And I guess my main two customers are on the one hand, the independent power and water producers that produce all the power and water capacity. And on the other hand, the system operator that needs to dispatch those plants to meet demand. So what I am aiming to do is make sure we've got that capacity, but also more increasingly,

[02:08 - 02:29] more importantly, that we have the flexibility to make sure that with the integration of all the renewables that we're adding to the system, that we can still balance the system effectively and keep a stable production for our customers. Great having both of you here. So 2022 got off to an incredible start as EWEC sustainability expanded its remit for

[02:29 - 02:53] coordinating water and electricity production operation in Abu Dhabi. The load dispatch center was transferred from Abu Dhabi transmission and dispatch company Transco to EWEC. Can say EWEC can now fully leverage a coordinated approach to operational planning. It was a real sign of confidence in EWEC, which set the tone for the year.

[02:53 - 03:17] Isa, can you tell us about the transfer? Well, the load dispatch center previously was part of Transco, as you will said. And now just for as EWEC is moving forward with it, it is a strategic path, you can say, in the advanced integration with the Abu Dhabi energy sector. So we are aiming to increase the optimization, improve the efficiencies, the diversity of

[03:17 - 03:38] energy production portfolio, and focus on sustainability. So there was a decision that the load dispatch center, the network operation to be moved from Transco, Taqa Group to EWEC. This is giving us a very big enabler to achieve our goals on towards the sustainability, you can say.

[03:38 - 03:58] So we will be more independent, controlling or let's say optimizing on the network dispatch, having more leverage also to talk to the IPPs and to the GCCIA. And especially with the new generation mix, which we are aiming with, with more photovoltaic

[03:58 - 04:22] plants, the PV farms and decoupling the water from thermal to aero plants, and having more interconnections with the GCCIA. Sustainability is a great word. Actually, Sheikh Mohammed announced 2023 is a year of sustainability.

[04:22 - 04:47] One of the main parts of sustainability when we talk about electricity is production of photovoltaic. EWEC invited developers to submit an expression of interest for developing a new solar photovoltaic independent power project in Al Ajban area of Abu Dhabi. This coming following Noor Abu Dhabi and Dhafra Solar PV, Al Ajban Solar is the third world

[04:47 - 05:09] leading large scale utility solar PV project developed by EWEC. Mark, what will it provide once fully up and running? I think in order to answer that question, it's worth just pausing and looking back at where we've come from. So if you go back just three years, 98% of the Abu Dhabi system, power requirements were

[05:09 - 05:32] provided by gas. And that's now significantly changing due to some of the solar projects that you referenced. So Noor Abu Dhabi was around 900 megawatts that came onto the system in 2019. And we currently have the Al Dhafra project, which is already generating early power, but will be 1500 megawatts when fully completed later this year.

[05:32 - 05:56] Al Ajban Solar that you just referenced is the third large scale project. Again it will be around 1500 megawatts AC. And I think it's worth highlighting that actually we in EWEC plan to build a project of this scale every one to two years for the next 10 years. So the amount of large scale utility solar going into the Abu Dhabi system is actually

[05:56 - 06:17] growing exponentially at the moment. To sort of rationalize this for listeners, each of these plants can generate enough electricity for 160,000 homes across the UAE and is expected to reduce our CO2 emissions in Abu Dhabi by more than 2.4 million metric tons annually.

[06:17 - 06:42] This is an amazing rate of change of renewable energy being added to the system and that coupled with the nuclear energy that we're adding to the system in parallel is really going to decarbonize the Abu Dhabi system very, very rapidly over the next few years. Yeah, it's great to see how EWEC involved in taking care of the environment and the,

[06:42 - 07:06] let's say the sustainability in Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general. The Al Dhafra PV2 is said to be the world's largest single site PV plant and it's now achieved great connected power generation. So could you tell us in details more about Al Dhafra PV2? Yeah, I think the difficult thing to visualize is just the scale of these plants.

[07:06 - 07:29] So we have almost 4 million PV modules going into this site. So if you just imagine how many man hours it's going to have taken to install 4 million separate modules onto the site, it is absolutely vast. This is something you can see from space by satellite and if you're driving past the site,

[07:29 - 07:51] it's about 20 kilometers you have to drive to get past it. So it's like driving through a forest of PV modules. So really quite amazing just to see in person. And yeah, it is a significant milestone for the UAE and it's really helping the UAE to hit strategic targets.

[07:51 - 08:17] So 2035 clean energy target where we aim to have 60% of the UAE's electricity generated from renewable and low carbon sources. Also Isa was touching on the technology that EWEC is involving, which is the reverse osmosis for water desalination. We also issued the request for proposals RFP to develop the new Shuweihat S4 reverse osmosis

[08:17 - 08:41] independent water project. That was narrowed down to three proposals from Acciona, Engie and GS Inima. What will this project deliver to us Mark? Sure, so the Shuweihat site is an existing site within Abu Dhabi that has both power and water production on that facility and we're adding reverse osmosis water production technology

[08:41 - 09:04] to the site. This particular project is 17 million imperial gallons per day. That's the production that will come out of that plant. But the key thing to mention about reverse osmosis is that it's the driving force for it for separating the salt from the seawater is done through membranes and pumps.

[09:04 - 09:25] And the reason this is very different to historic technologies is essentially we used to use gas to boil water and collect the water that has been boiled off that was free from salt. And so because we're now using electricity directly to drive the separation, the carbon

[09:25 - 09:46] intensity of this technology is significantly lower than the previous gas technologies we used to use. EWEC and Saudi Arabia's Aqua Power started operations on the first phase of the significant reverse osmosis water desalination plant in Abu Dhabi in Taweelah area.

[09:46 - 10:10] Mark, can you explain more about this project and how much was the first phase? Sure, absolutely. If you think that our water demand is somewhere around 800 million gallons per day and this plant when it's fully operational will be about 200. So it's providing roughly a quarter of the country's water requirement from one single

[10:10 - 10:31] facility which is just huge. If you walk around these plants, the pipes on the site are two meters in diameter so you could walk down them or drive a small car down them. So it's really at a huge scale. In fact, never seen before, this plant will be the largest reverse osmosis desalination

[10:31 - 10:56] plant anywhere in the world when it reaches full production. In June 2022, it reached 50% of that production. The project is about $900 million in total capital costs to build it and we're expecting it to reach full commercial operation later this year in 2023.

[10:56 - 11:19] And when it does that, it will be the single largest site, as I mentioned, anywhere in the world with a total capacity of 200 million imperial gallons per day or in metric, that's over 900,000 cubic meters of water being produced per day in the facility. So exactly, this is part of the main idea of reducing our carbon print and reaching

[11:19 - 11:43] to the net zero. We need to produce more power with less dependence, you can say, on gas going to the renewable energies and the clean energies. And in order to do that also, we need to decouple now the power and water. So we are depending more on the RO plants, as Mark mentioned.

[11:43 - 12:10] These plants, though they are huge, but they are enabling us to move forward and onto the main objective and main target, which we are in a week progressing very well. For sure, at the same time from the dispatch and the day to day operation, also we are also having our homework and moving forward with our learning curve, trying to boost the

[12:10 - 12:34] knowledge of our operation planning, our control rooms, the engineers, how to deal with the new generation mix. And how that works in practice is as we decarbonize the input electricity, because we're building these plants where they require electricity to separate the salt from the water, it means

[12:34 - 12:54] that the water production automatically just gets decarbonized further down the line. So it's like a step that's intrinsically got the carbon reduction built in, right? Because as we put more nuclear on the system, more solar PV on the system, the production of water laterally then just becomes lower carbon because the input electricity is lower

[12:54 - 13:14] carbon at the front end. So we're future proofing the network for future carbon reductions in making these changes on the water side as well as on the power side. So it's quite neat. It achieves two objectives in one go. And you guys have highlighted that this is a comprehensive plan, that EWEC is going to

[13:14 - 13:40] deploy more of RO technology. Could you guys tell us more about what EWEC is looking forward in the future in regard of water desalination? So we have a pipeline of reversal spaces projects, Taweelah we've already mentioned, and we're also looking at projects on Abu Dhabi island itself. We are also trying to diversify and distribute our assets and not to put them in one place.

[13:40 - 14:01] And this is adding to the sustainability and redundancy you can say in the network. As we mentioned, our team are learning on daily basis how to deal with the new norms, we call it. So it will be like a different network within a couple of years coming.

[14:01 - 14:26] But this change is really for the benefit of the network to reach that net zero, which we really believe everyone here in the sector believes in the net zero and how this will impact humanity and our mother earth. Those RO projects, the new ones are very different in terms of visual impact than a large gas

[14:26 - 14:46] fired power station. So we're able actually to put them quite close to demand sources. And that's really neat because this is low carbon, low energy production of water anyway. But if we're able to put the facility really close to Abu Dhabi as an example, it means that we reduce on the pumping costs to get the water from where it's produced to where

[14:46 - 15:10] it's consumed. And that's a significant reduction in both energy and carbon footprints as well. So these plants actually are really flexible for helping the networking, including actually separating the power and water production. It's surprisingly quite constraining having the power and water produced from the same

[15:10 - 15:31] facility with the water being a byproduct of the power production and reverse osmosis completely separates that and removes that constraint. And maybe that's quite a difficult one to visualize. But essentially, if we are producing power, required to produce power at full output in

[15:31 - 15:53] the summer, we could actually end up producing too much water and then we would have it be difficult to throttle back the water production. And conversely, we have the opposite challenge in the winter. So being able to completely decouple, as we call it, but separate the power and the water production actually makes the network a lot easier for Easa's control room system operations

[15:53 - 16:20] team to manage. Exactly. It is making it easier also. But again, as we said, as the generation mix is changing, it's also, let's say we are having different challenges now than before. Challenges to overcome now. Yeah. So it's as Mark said, it's between winter and summer. So today we are having the challenge of producing water demand and there is no significant electricity

[16:20 - 16:45] demand. But by having the decoupling, we will try to solve this challenge or mitigate it, we can say, in a perfect way. Yeah, speaking of Abu Dhabi Islands, Mark, you have mentioned that there is a new project called Abu Dhabi Islands RO near the demand of Abu Dhabi. I understand that EWEC has invited developers to submit their expression of interest for

[16:45 - 17:08] developing that project. So they are actually going to be located, one on Saadiyat Island and one on Hudayriat Island. And they will be at a capacity of about 100 million imperial gallons per day. So that's enough to meet the water demand for about 180,000 households in the Emirate

[17:08 - 17:30] of Abu Dhabi. It's about an eighth of the total water requirement that is required for the whole of the Abu Dhabi and some of the Northern Emirates regions that we serve. So significant, significant production. And as Isa mentioned, it's very helpful having the water production dispersed across multiple

[17:30 - 17:53] sites. If there's ever any issues at a particular site, then historically, we're probably relying on about four sites to produce all of the water. So if you had an issue at one of those facilities, you could take out a quarter of your production. Now with it more dispersed across multiple sites, that increases the resiliency of the

[17:53 - 18:16] overall system. And as we mentioned before, it has the other benefits of being closer to the demand and reducing the transportation costs for the water. Mark, thank you for the new planning. You made our life easier now with this distributed assets. Thank you. I mean, that goes back to the earlier comment, the main customers of the asset management

[18:16 - 18:37] team are the system operators to make sure they have enough flexibility to operate the system and also working with the independent water and power producers to enhance and optimize and sometimes upgrade their plants to meet the new flexibility requirements. And the reason we need this flexibility is because the makeup of power generation in

[18:37 - 19:00] Abu Dhabi is changing very, very rapidly. As we said before, just three years ago, 98% gas generation. We've had periods over this last winter where for a few hours period, we were over 60% of our generation was from low carbon sources. I know that was, well, how did your control room find that to manage?

[19:00 - 19:22] I have to say, yes, it was a very good achievement that the control room in late 2022 in December, they could cross the 60% of clean and renewable energy serving the demand of the UAE. So we crossed around 62% for a couple of hours.

[19:22 - 19:42] And the good news is that beginning the quarter one of 2023, also we crossed more than 80% for some hours also, depending on clean energy and renewable energies. This is for us, it's a very big milestone actually. And this is not just a one off.

[19:42 - 20:07] I mean, this was a few hours where we happened to hit a particularly high percentage. And part of the reason for that is because we were in winter. And so the percentage makeup from nuclear and solar was that much higher. But it's not a one off, it's what we're expecting looking forward. And actually the total volume of energy produced is going to be from low carbon sources this

[20:07 - 20:29] year is going to be significantly larger than we've seen in previous years. We'll have to come back to that with some figures by maybe to this group of listeners again, but certainly it'll be something that the EWEC will publish because it's, yeah, that 60% in one two hour period is going to look like about already for January, it's

[20:29 - 20:55] maybe above 30% total power input is low carbon. So a significant step change and it's not slowing up, it's speeding up. Yeah, when you say 80% of demand, the power demand by renewables. So it's 80% was low carbon. And if that a big percentage was coming from the nuclear facility, which has recently announced

[20:55 - 21:15] a third unit coming online out of four, and then there's a significant percentage as well coming from solar PV. So the achievement actually happened on the February the 10th on Friday, actually, and around 2.30pm in the afternoon.

[21:15 - 21:39] Peak time where? Yeah, exactly. So we hit the peak time with a total demand of 7.7 gigawatts on the network, where we were around 6.1 on clean and renewable energy. And we already we've been able to manage it without any impact on either within our network,

[21:39 - 22:02] Emirates network or the GCC. So it was really very fine, very smooth. And we are looking forward to hit more records in the future, but again, with a sustainable network status. But again, this will this changes as you look across the year, because in the winter, we can switch off more gas plants and we can rely on the nuclear and the solar more to

[22:02 - 22:26] hit a big higher percentage. But in the peak of summer, we need all of that installed capacity from the existing plants as we transition towards a system that's got a larger proportion of clean energy on the network. So this time next year, you might hear us coming back with a new record in that space. And as you said, the target is really to hear those breaks to be hit in the summer, after

[22:26 - 22:47] having all those PV plants and changing the whole network, really changing the whole network. And this is fundamental for the whole of the country. It's not just an EWEC target. This is decarbonizing a lot of other industry because so many industries obviously use electricity. Everyone uses electricity at home.

[22:47 - 23:08] Even more in the future, people will be using electricity for transportation as well with EVs coming on online. And that change is happening pretty rapidly. So the fact that the input electricity that we're producing is reaching such low levels of carbon intensity and such high levels of renewable penetration is really helping to

[23:08 - 23:35] decarbonize the whole country. So it's very exciting to be part of that significant change that's got a real broader benefit, not just to the environment, but also to society at large. What are we looking forward in 2023 in terms of projects, capacities, renewable energies?

[23:35 - 23:57] Yeah, so from an EWEC point of view, we are constantly looking forward at what we require to meet our targets, primarily to ensure there's enough capacity there to supply sufficient electricity and water to Abu Dhabi and to cope with the underlying growth that there

[23:57 - 24:18] is in the economy and in the country. So what have we got in the pipeline where we've got more projects that deliver more capacity, so more of the same, more solar PV, there's a future nuclear unit to come online. We have more of the reverse osmosis projects and also battery projects to help with frequency

[24:18 - 24:40] control on the network. So that's a big part of it. But also we do need more gas capacity as well to help us to keep the system stable. And even though the load factors of those new gas plants will be significantly lower and falling over time, it's still required to balance the system and allow us to transition

[24:40 - 25:00] to a lower carbon grid overall while maintaining the reliability that everyone needs and is expected of us in terms of getting power 24-7 all of the time with no interruptions. So that's quite a delicate balance and you need all of these different technologies to

[25:00 - 25:26] help us to keep the system stable. I think it's a challenge task for the system operator to balance between the demand, the generation and to balance between the contribution toward the sustainability. Isa, what do you think? How would the system operator deal with this? Now the thing is that the target has been set, the net zero is a vision which has been

[25:26 - 25:47] transferred to a strategy now with a good roadmap and concrete milestones. We are moving forward, as Mark said, with these new projects on the same pace, you can say, the load dispatch center and the teams there, they are also

[25:47 - 26:09] increasing their knowledge, their skills, competencies towards dealing with the new norms by enabling, depending on higher technologies when we are talking about having applications, doing a better load forecast, especially for the short

[26:09 - 26:34] terms. Now, as we are having renewables, which is mainly PV in our region, depending on the sun, so cloud coverage will be like a critical point to try to, let's say, deploy the right technologies to have a more flexible response towards these, you can say, changes on cloud

[26:34 - 27:01] coverage or on our PV plants. Battery options maybe? The battery is to make the balancing also and provide the frequency control, as mentioned by Mark. But again, if you notice, we are also building huge PV plants, so big areas, and we are trying our best from the, let's say, the short term team and the long term team in the planning

[27:01 - 27:21] to talk to each other and to put the right, you can say, recommendation for the future projects, whereas it depends on the location, connectivity to the network, and again, deploying the right flexibilities from the fleet itself, from the gas turbine fleets or cogeneration

[27:21 - 27:45] fleets, how to cope with these changes. It's a good thing to get over to the listeners the difference between what we need out of storage in the short term and what we need out of storage in the longer term. So if you think about it, we talked about flexibility, and what that is requiring is for us to basically cope with the transition that happens every day to get from the daytime

[27:45 - 28:07] to the night smoothly. So in the daytime, we might have in the next few years, in fact, we plan to have up to 10 gigawatts of more solar by the end of the decade. So that means that every evening, there's a 10 gigawatt ramp up that's required from other sources of energy to get us through the night because the demand in the UAE is

[28:07 - 28:29] pretty flat because of the temperature profile is pretty flat through the day and the night. So we need that help on the flexibility side, which we can deliver somewhat from our gas plant and somewhat from batteries. But in the longer term, we want to reduce our reliance on gas for the overnight times, the times when we can't provide the energy from solar.

[28:29 - 28:52] And that requires a step change in maybe different technologies. So the batteries that are in EVs and that we use for frequency control, which helps keep the system stable and allows us to transition from day to night and cope with these very rapid ramp up in demand as the sun drops down. That's a different service from one that's providing a huge volume of energy that's needed

[28:52 - 29:14] to get us through the night. And that's something that we look at when we do our forward plans, and actually we've just completed our statement of future capacity recently. And that looks at the requirements between 2023 and 2029. And that's a public document that people will be able to look at and understand how the

[29:14 - 29:38] future energy mix is changing and how quickly we're actually transitioning to this lower carbon energy mix. So in total, we're going to have over seven gigawatts of solar power capacity on the network by 2029. And so clearly, EWECC is recommending an increase in solar power generation capacity.

[29:38 - 30:00] This is helping us to meet the commitment to drive forward the UAE's energy transition. And that's some of the recommendations coming out of the report. The other ones relate to more of the reverse osmosis technology that we've talked about, and also we touched on batteries today.

[30:00 - 30:21] And EWECC is recommending developing 300 megawatts of one-hour reserve batteries for the system, and also an additional one and a half gigawatts of thermal capacity by 2026, which is gas capacity to help keep the system stable. And we've already covered how important that is.

[30:21 - 30:46] So that really demonstrates the pace at which EWEC is moving. By having also these projects, and as Mark said, with this reduction of carbon, we are aiming now to run the system within 60% on renewable and clean energy by 2035. Yeah, from what we discussed, I think EWEC is contributing to the achievement of the

[30:46 - 31:07] UAE net zero strategy, especially with the COP28 happening in the UAE next year. I think we are, let's say, ready to make some changes in the process. If you want to highlight a few points from a system operator on how EWEC is contributing

[31:07 - 31:28] toward the COP28 and the UAE net zero. Actually, it started from the vision with the leadership of the country put for us. We forward that to, I can say, to a plan. And we are moving forward with the plan. For sure, the plan, as I said, it's not only the capacity, it's also with the people, with

[31:28 - 31:49] the systems you can say used, the most advanced applications to be used by planners, by control room engineers, operation planning. Everyone you can say is contributing into this, transferring that vision into a plan, which we are moving forward.

[31:49 - 32:16] And we are very proud that our country, the UAE, will be hosting the COP28. And we can tell our story, our successful story to the world. I'm proud too, to be part of EWEC, you know, that we are leading toward the sustainability here in the sector of water and electricity. Well, 2022 was a significant year with so much achieved, but 2023 will be even more

[32:16 - 32:40] important for us in EWEC. I cannot wait to tell you more about it in details during our next episodes. Easa and Mark, thank you for joining us today. Give us your time and providing some interesting insight into the incredible year that EWEC has had and some of the things that we have got to look forward in 2023.

[32:40 - 33:00] Thank you again for joining us and to all of our listeners. You are listening to The Current brought to you by EWEC. Remember to subscribe to the podcast through your preferred platform to keep up with our news and insights. Our next podcast will be released in Q2, 2023.

[33:00 - 33:27] This is Abdurrahman Omar Bafaraj and it has been a pleasure. Thank you for taking part in our journey. As-salamu alaykum.

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