In this episode of The Current, host Abdulrahman Bafaraj, Senior Project Manager at EWEC, speaks with Georgios Vantsiotis, Demand Forecasting Director, and Omar Al Ameri, Head of Power Operation Control, about EWEC’s journey to achieving ‘zero-hour’, when EWEC will be able to operate the grid without gas-fired generation, as well as EWEC’s latest achievements in accelerating the UAE’s energy transition.

The Current by EWEC: Achieving Zero Hour
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Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[00:05 - 00:43] Welcome back to The Current, a quarterly podcast brought to you by EWEC, the Emirates Water and Electricity Company. I am Abdurlahman Omar Bafaraj, Senior Project Manager at EWEC, and I am delighted to welcome you all to yet another exciting podcast episode. Today's discussion centers on a highly relevant and timely topic, not just for EWEC, but for the region and indeed the world. By 2027, we have forecasted that we will be able to achieve Zero Hour, a state where we will be able to operate our power system without burning any natural gas.[00:44 - 01:13] This is a significant target and a historic step towards reaching Net Zero by 2050. Joining me to discuss Zero Hour are two of my colleagues and energy sector experts. George Vantsiotis, Demand Forecasting Director in our Strategy and Planning Team at EWEC. And Omar Al Ameri, Head of Power Operation Control in our Power Network Operations Team. Thank you for joining us today, gentlemen.

George Vantsiotis[01:13 - 01:14] Thanks for having us.

Omar Al Ameri[01:14 - 01:15] Thank you for having me, Abdulrahman.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[01:16 - 01:25] So before we dive in today's discussion, could each of you briefly introduce yourself and tell our listeners what you do at EWEC?

George Vantsiotis[01:25 - 01:54] Yeah, sure. So my name is George and I am the Demand Forecasting Director. And my job involves long-term forecasting and medium-term forecasting for both power and water. And lately, my team is also responsible for solar forecasting. And the combination of the two enables me to also identify required mitigation options for security of supply.

Omar Al Ameri[01:54 - 02:12] My name is Omar Al Ameri. I'm the Head of Power Operation and Control in EWEC. I lead the power control. And I'm also the Head of the Control Room, the energy management application and dispatch training simulator teams. It's a pleasure to be here. And it's a good opportunity to share more about our work and its impact on the grid.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[02:12 - 02:30] Thank you both. Now, today's topic is Zero Hour. For someone who may not know the specifics, it could sound like the title of an action movie, like Rush Hour, but what exactly do we mean by Zero Hour in the context of energy? George, if we could start with you.

George Vantsiotis[02:31 - 03:01] So Zero hour will be the first time, the first hour where our system will be operated only with clean and renewable energy sources. So all of the system's demand will be covered by nuclear, solar, batteries and wind. This is, let's say, the litmus stone of whether we can go ahead and make clean energy more available. And to iron out all the problems. And to iron out all the details.[03:02 - 03:29] And in effect, it's going to lead us in a smooth path towards our 2035 target, which is 60% renewable energy, which means that a few things will need to be addressed. We will need to have the sufficient capacity to meet demand and energy requirements, but also we will need to iron out certain aspects of system operability.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[03:30 - 03:37] George. And you mentioned that operability will be a key enabler for zero hour. What does that entail, Omar?

Omar Al Ameri[03:37 - 04:11] Well, that's a good question. Historically, our systems were built around thermal gas power plants in the UAE. In the current time, in 2024, we have diversified our energy mix. From control room perspective, operability refers to making sure that the control room have the right tools and robust high voltage network to maintain a stable and efficient power system. Of course, that's easier said than done, especially as more renewable come online, like the solar PV, which provide intermittent supply and lack of some necessary services.[04:12 - 04:29] To make sure that the grid is reliable, we need energy storages and a mix of generation, like the wind, solar and nuclear that we're having now. Balancing these elements while maintaining the operability of the system is the key to achieve that zero hour target.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[04:29 - 04:47] So, operability is part of the equation. And the other part is having sufficient renewable and clean capacity to meet demand. George, how is our transition to renewable and clean energy going? What are we doing to be ready for zero hour in 2027?

George Vantsiotis[04:48 - 05:21] Since we got the mandate to pursue the environmental and sustainability targets, we've started seeing in the past, in our Statement of Future Capacity Requirements, that more and more solar energy is being introduced. And in order to balance this energy, we need storage options, and currently the best storage option is batteries. We also try to incorporate other aspects which can help us when the sun doesn't shine, like wind.[05:21 - 05:59] So, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are installing very big solar PV plants. Actually, it will be the biggest in the world, I believe. We will have at least four single-site, 0.5 gigawatt plants by then. And this is going to, let's say, push the total envelope of clean energy to 11-12 gigawatts. And then, on top of that, we are going to introduce another 400 megawatts of energy. So, this is going to be the maximum capacity of batteries[05:59 - 06:33] to help us with the ancillary services that Omar has referred to. And this, in combination with the existing, let's say, 5.5 gigawatts of nuclear energy, will help us deliver this zero hour. If our plans go in the right direction, I don't think that capacity is going to be the issue. I think that mastering how to operate this capacity is going to be a more interesting question.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[06:33 - 07:02] Yeah, as a development team, we are securing sites to build more solar, to start the wind program, looking into batteries to make sure all of this is ready by that time. So, we have a vast amount of new renewable and clean capacity coming online in the next couple of years. What do we need to do to be ready to dispatch this new capacity and continue to operate our system reliably?

Omar Al Ameri[07:03 - 07:20] Okay, so we need to enhance our capabilities across people, system and process. Already EWEC have started on doing that since more than five years. I would say that first we have to improve the short-term demand and generation forecasting.

George Vantsiotis[07:20 - 07:59] Over the past year, we have made a lot of progress and considerable progress in this direction. We started working with independent providers for weather forecasting, which is imperative for getting the solar forecasting right. We are testing different satellite data providers. We have broken down the network to a substation level and we are forecasting at the substation level using, right now, eight weather stations. In the future, up to 24, I believe. So, we are preparing ourselves really heavily[08:00 - 08:07] because we understand that to deliver zero hour, we will need first to deliver more certainty in the control room.

Omar Al Ameri[08:08 - 08:46] I think it's crucial that we have this accurate prediction of the load demand and energy availability from the plants. We also need to take a tactical approach to develop our systems and tools and ensuring that the expansion and the stability of services are integrated seamlessly. Leveraging data and digitalization will be essential in maintaining system security. Exploring artificial intelligence technology that can support our daily operation is something that is on the table now by the company. We have already reached 80% clean energy hour.

George Vantsiotis[08:46 - 08:47] Last February, right?

Omar Al Ameri[08:47 - 09:12] Yeah, last February. In 2023. I think also we were near that target in 2022. In general, to achieve the 100% zero hour, we will require to enhance our systems and tools in the control room to enable that while the strategy and planning and asset development make sure that the tools on the site are available for us so that it can be utilized in the control room.

George Vantsiotis[09:12 - 09:25] Yeah. So, we need to train ourselves for the new regime. I think that there is a lot of work to be done to enhance our understanding of these days of the year, let's say.

Omar Al Ameri[09:25 - 09:27] Yeah, true. I agree.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[09:27 - 09:33] Very interesting. Do all these enhancements also require changing how electricity is transmitted?

Omar Al Ameri[09:33 - 10:11] Yes, they certainly do. The traditional grid was designed for thermal power plants, which have, compared to the current technologies, some limitations in running rates and high minimum operating levels. These limitations actually are adding cost to the system with the rise of renewable, like the solar and wind, which actually, they are very high. They are very, very variable during the day, depending on the weather conditions. We need to have more reserve capacity and better grid management to handle these fluctuations. Regarding the network, we need new transmission lines as some of the renewable plants are actually located in different locations than the thermal plants.[10:12 - 10:47] And this, we will need to work with our close coordination with our stakeholders. We can use technologies like dynamic line rating, which optimize the capacity. We can use the existing lines. Smart solutions can help manage the increased complexity and battery storage can provide the necessary backup when the renewable generation is low. These are some examples that the network needs to adopt to cater for the transition between the current stage up to the zero carbon target that we're having by 2050 and 2035, the Abu Dhabi 60% clean energy target.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[10:52 - 11:03] I understand that all these enhancements are still ongoing, but do we have a rough idea when we will reach zero hour? I believe, George, you mentioned 2027.

George Vantsiotis[11:03 - 11:37] Yes, 2027 is a target that we set to ourselves and we are working really hard to achieve. We expect that we are going to be in a position to deliver it, that we are going to have the necessary equipment, batteries, solar plants, and also the necessary control room equipment and automations that will allow us to achieve this. But we need to remember that apart from this zero hour, we will have still a system to operate for the remainder.[11:38 - 11:47] So we will still need flexible natural gas capacity to ensure that we are going to have enough reserve.

Omar Al Ameri[11:47 - 12:20] Coming to one point that you mentioned, the reserve, to target that zero hour in 2027, we can utilize the batteries. We can also utilize the PV plants, like Al Dhafra project, which is now under commercial operation, and what's planned for Al-Ajban project to participate on the reserve requirement, the primary and secondary reserve, George, which is something that will enable from security point of view for the system to run for that zero hour and repeat that zero hour.

George Vantsiotis[12:20 - 12:39] And also we need to ensure that we will be able to cover our water demand without running thermal distillation processes. So we will have, apart from the electrical system, we will have to have enough RO capacity that we are not going to jeopardize water delivery for that period of time.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[12:39 - 13:08] Yeah, by 2027, I think we will have Mirfa 2 RO, 120 million imperial gallon, we will have Shuweihat S4, 70 MIGD, and we will have the Saadiyat Island RO, 60 MIGD. So along all these new capacities. We are, as a development, exploring more sites for the RO capacity. Before we wrap up, is there anything else either of you would like to highlight or explain to our listeners?

George Vantsiotis[13:09 - 13:46] Basically, we need to drive home the point that having enough capacity to run the system with 100% clean energy does not mean that this becomes feasible automatically. There is a lot of work and a lot of systems required for us to be able to deliver this target. It's not just a matter of having the assets. We need the know-how, we need the training, we need the underlying automation, and, and this cannot be, let's say, underestimated[13:46 - 13:55] because it takes significant effort to prepare both the people and the system to deliver the zero hour.

Omar Al Ameri[13:55 - 14:28] Yeah, I couldn't agree more, George. It's a big job for us, and it's the efforts of the whole teams that have been working through the previous years to achieve that. We are living through the pivotal moment in the UAE energy sector. I mean, the shift from the traditional plants, to now the renewable energy is actually already happening. And we are all part of this transformation. By embracing innovation, as you mentioned, and supporting sustainable practices, we can do more. And our actions today actually are shaping the UAE of tomorrow.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[14:28 - 14:37] Amazing. Thank you, Omar and George, for taking the time to be on our podcast. I look forward to having you back again.

George Vantsiotis[14:37 - 14:40] Thank you, Abdulrahman. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity, Abdulrahman.

Omar Al Ameri[14:40 - 14:41] Thank you for being a great host.

Abdulrahman Omar Bafaraj[14:41 - 15:21] Thank you. Just before we end, I would like to update our listeners on a few EWEC milestones from the past few months. Earlier this year, EWEC supplied the 12th World Environmental Education Congress in Abu Dhabi, with renewable and clean energy verified through the provision of Clean Energy Certificates. Then in March, EWEC became the first company in the UAE to be awarded the ISO 22301 certification by Tasneef. The certification recognizes EWEC's leading comprehensive approach to organizational resilience.[15:21 - 15:59] As we discussed earlier with George and Omar, EWEC invited Expression of Interest submissions for our 400 megawatt battery energy storage system project. Battery technology will play a crucial role in enabling our strategic expansion in solar PV. At the end of March, EWEC and Tadweer signed a concession agreement with a Japan-based consortium. The local and global partners will join forces for the development of the world-leading Greenfield Abu Dhabi Waste-to-Energy Independent Power Project. In April, we issued a Request for Proposals[15:59 - 16:39] for our fourth utility-scale solar project, the 1.5 gigawatt AC Khazna Solar PV project. In the same month, EWEC announced the award of its 1.5 gigawatt AC Al-Ajban Solar PV project to an international consortium of EDF Renewables, Korea Western Power Company, and Masdar as the local shareholder. Following the award, the project power purchase agreement was signed between EWEC and the stakeholders. Thank you for tuning in. To keep up with our news and insights, subscribe to the podcast,[16:39 - 16:50] through your preferred platform. You have been listening to The Current, brought to you by EWEC. I am Abdurlahman Omar Bafaraj, and it has been a pleasure. Assalamu alaikum.

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