Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

Fog fences in a hamlet on the outskirts of the southern coastal city of Sidi Ifni in Morocco. Fog collection projects have already been installed in Oman, and have been recommended as a means of saving water in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018
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Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

  • Fog harvesting, hydro-electricity and waste-to-energy are among the innovative technologies rolling out in the region
  • The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.

LONDON: From “harvesting fog” in Oman to vertical farming in Dubai, Gulf states are looking beyond solar power in the race to develop innovative renewable technologies.
A surge in investment, triggered by a regionwide economic diversification push, is helping to transform the region into an unlikely global hub for renewables innovation.
Dubai utility DEWA this year signed an agreement to study plans to build a 400MW pumped hydro storage power station — using water from Hatta Dam to generate hydro-electric power from water pumped using solar-powered turbines.
It forms part of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 which aims to make the emirate a global hub for the green economy and source 75 per cent of its total power output from clean energy.
But it is only one of dozens of major renewable energy projects under way as the huge investment program in solar and offshore wind power in the region extends to other technologies.
“As renewable energy costs decline, technology advances and deployment accelerates around the world, we are entering a new age of energy transformation, with renewable energy becoming a significant driver of economic growth, job creation, and socioeconomic development,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Urbanization in the Gulf is also spurring investment as the region’s big cities warm up.
Arup, the London-based engineering consultancy, warns that “arid” cities need to innovate more or become less habitable, as they become drier.
Its report “Cities Alive: Rethinking Cities in Arid Environments,” argues that as air conditioning has enabled the growth of arid cities, many are seeing an “urban heat island effect,” where they become hotter than the surrounding rural areas, increasing water use and accelerating energy consumption.
The report urges cities to adopt measures such as industrial-scale fog and dew harvesting and cooling pavements that can reduce ambient temperatures by up to 7 degrees, as well as building more energy-efficient buildings.
“Cities in arid regions are expected to experience the highest rates of natural population growth and urbanization in the coming century. Yet most are still being planned and designed based on a global city-making paradigm from the 1950s. Cities need to adopt strategies that combine technological innovation with locally adapted and climatically appropriate solutions,” said Hrvoje Cindric, an associate at Arup.
Many cutting-edge renewables technologies are being developed at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
Masdar City includes IRENA’s headquarters and the new Masdar Institute and aims to be the first city to operate without fossil-fueled vehicles at street level.
“The region will be exploring different applications but they will always be secondary to wind and solar. This is where the main investment is,” says Zoheir Hamedi, MENA program officer at IRENA.
The Indian Ocean coast of Oman is seen as offering strong potential for wind power, as is Saudi Arabia’s northern quarter.
But Hamedi also points to the potential which bio-energy could offer as a renewable energy source in the region.
On this front, The Emirates Waste to Energy Company, a joint venture between Masdar and Bee’ah, signed terms earlier this year with CNIM on a design, build and operate agreement for the first waste-to-energy facility in the UAE in Sharjah.
Due for completion by 2020, the plant will treat more than 300,000 tons of municipal solid waste each year and generate around 30MW of electricity.
Meanwhile, in January, Dubai Municipality signed a 2.5 billion dirhams ($680,700) contract to build a major new waste-to-energy plant at Warsan which will treat 1.82 million tonnes of waste annually and generate some 185MW of electricity.
Swiss engineering company HZI and Belgian firm Besix Group are expected to start construction this year and the plant is expected to be partially operating by 2020.
Geothermal energy also offers potential in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where a study has highlighted the scope for generating energy from a series of hot springs in the Al-Khouba area of Jizan province in the south west of the country.
Fog harvesting using vast vertical sheets of canvas has proved a useful source of water in areas of scarcity such as Morocco.
The Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 will use structures that generate solar energy and capture water from humidity in the air to supply much of its water needs.
Fog technology could be useful in KSA, which combines low rainfall with high per-capita water consumption. Data collected over a year at the Rayda reserve weather station suggested fog could provide a supplementary water supply for the agriculture sector in the south west of the Kingdom, according to research in Water and Environment Journal.
Fog collection projects have also been installed in desert areas worldwide, including Oman and Eritrea.
Meanwhile, to accelerate dew harvesting techniques, the partners of the SunGlacier Challenge recently invited teams of universities worldwide to make water from the air.
The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.
“New technologies in energy storage will come to the fore, develop, evolve and become more cost-competitive,” said Dietmar Siersdorfer, chief executive of Siemens Middle East, in a recent report.
Hydrogen is seen as a ripe solution for energy storage from a range of a few kilowatts to gigawatts, for several weeks.
Decentralised systems will also allow power users in industry to produce energy independently for their facilities, reducing transmission losses and carbon emissions.
The Siemens report also highlights energy efficiency as a major area for growth in the region, potentially generating savings of up to 30 per cent.
It also notes the rise in energy efficiency services companies (ESCOs) in the region.
The UAE already has about 30 such companies, more than half of them based in Dubai.
Regional governments have stepped up efforts to remove subsidies in the energy sector in recent years as part of a broader push to wean Gulf economies off oil dependence.
However subsidies remain in place in some countries, which can deter investment in renewables, according to analysts.
“The whole thing needs to be re-thought with a proper plan,” said Rahmat Poudineh, lead senior research fellow, electricity at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
For renewable resources to be integrated economically into the existing energy market, electricity tariffs need to be reformed. Letting renewables compete with existing sources of energy, on a level playing field, is the key issue, he said.
The region also needs to invest in energy efficiency. “Saving 1KWh (kilowatt-hour) of energy is much cheaper than producing 1KWh of clean energy,” Poudineh said.


Saudi energy minister recommends driving down oil inventories, says supply plentiful

Updated 19 May 2019
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Saudi energy minister recommends driving down oil inventories, says supply plentiful

  • Oil supplies were sufficient and stockpiles were still rising despite massive output drops from Iran and Venezuela
  • Producer nations discussed how to stabilise a volatile oil market amid rising US-Iran tensions in the Gulf, which threaten to disrupt global supply

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Sunday he recommended “gently” driving oil inventories down at a time of plentiful global supplies and that OPEC would not make hasty decisions about output ahead of a June meeting.
“Overall, the market is in a delicate situation,” Falih told reporters before a ministerial panel meeting of top OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While there is concern about supply disruptions, inventories are rising and the market should see a “comfortable supply situation in the weeks and months to come,” he said.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia is de facto leader, would have more data at its next meeting in late June to help it reach the best decision on output, Falih said.
“It is critical that we don’t make hasty decisions – given the conflicting data, the complexity involved, and the evolving situation,” he said, describing the outlook as “quite foggy” due in part to a trade dispute between the United States and China.
“But I want to assure you that our group has always done the right thing in the interests of both consumers and producers; and we will continue to do so,” he added.
OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 for six months, a deal designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters that different options were available for the output deal, including a rise in production in the second half of the year.
The energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Al-Mazrouei, said oil producers were capable of filling any gap in the oil market and that relaxing supply cuts was not “the right decision.”
Mazrouei said the UAE did not want to see a rise in inventories that could lead to a price collapse and that OPEC would act wisely to maintain sustainable market balance.
“As UAE we see that the job is not done yet, there is still a period of time to look at the supply and demand and we don’t see any need to alter the agreement in the meantime,” he said.
US crude inventories rose unexpectedly last week to their highest since September 2017, while gasoline stockpiles decreased more than forecast, data from the government’s Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.
DELICATE BALANCE
Saudi Arabia sees no need to boost production quickly now, with oil at around $70 a barrel, as it fears a price crash and a build-up in inventories, OPEC sources said, adding that Russia wants to increase supply after June.
The United States, not a member of OPEC+ but a close ally of Riyadh, wants the group to boost output to bring oil prices down.
Falih has to find a delicate balance between keeping the oil market well supplied and prices high enough for Riyadh’s budget needs, while pleasing Moscow to ensure Russia remains in the OPEC+ pact, and being responsive to the concerns of the United States and the rest of OPEC+, the sources said earlier.
Sunday’s meeting of the ministerial panel, known as the JMMC, comes amid concerns of a tight market. Iran’s oil exports are likely to drop further in May and shipments from Venezuela could fall again in coming weeks due to US sanctions.
Oil contamination also forced Russia to halt flows along the Druzhba pipeline — a key conduit for crude into Eastern Europe and Germany — in April. The suspension, as yet of unclear duration, left refiners scrambling to find supplies.
Russia’s Novak told reporters that oil supplies to Poland via the pipeline would start on Monday.
OPEC’s agreed share of the cuts is 800,000 bpd, but its actual reduction is far larger due to the production losses in Iran and Venezuela. Both are under US sanctions and exempt from the voluntary reductions under the OPEC-led deal.
REGIONAL TENSIONS
Oil prices edged lower on Friday due to demand fears amid a standoff in Sino-US trade talks, but both benchmarks ended the week higher on rising concerns over disruptions in Middle East shipments due to US-Iran political tensions.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are running high after last week’s attacks on two Saudi oil tankers off the UAE coast and another on Saudi oil facilities inside the Kingdom.
Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes on oil pumping stations, for which Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi militia claimed responsibility. 
Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs said on Sunday that the Kingdom wants to avert war in the region but stands ready to respond with “all strength” following the attacks.
“Although it has not affected our supplies, such acts of terrorism are deplorable,” Falih said. “They threaten uninterrupted supplies of energy to the world and put a global economy that is already facing headwinds at further risk.”
The attacks come as the United States and Iran spar over Washington’s tightening of sanctions aimed at cutting Iranian oil exports to zero, and an increased US military presence in the Gulf over perceived Iranian threats to US interests.