Qatar’s General Electricity & Water Company (Kahramaa) has drawn up plans to build either the world’s largest solar power complex or a nuclear power plant, to deal with the expected surge in demand for power over the coming decades.

The plan is based on a 30-year demand forecast for the country’s power and water sectors, prepared by a Dutch consortium of Kema and Royal Haskoning.

According to Kahramaa, a total of 16,260MW of power generation capacity will be added to the national grid between 2011 and 2036, almost four times the existing capacity of 4,200MW.

An extra 1.72 million cubic metres a day (cm/d) of desalination capacity is also planned by 2032, twice the current amount.

The expansion plan suggests several potential sites for the independent power projects, including one at Umm Bab in the southwest of the country, which could house a nuclear power plant.

Kahramaa says the site would meet the demand for 1,080MW of new capacity in 2019, and capacity would gradually be increased to 5,400MW by 2036.

However, the plans are still at an early stage. “The idea is just to allocate sites and tell the state to reserve them,” says Salah Hamza, senior business planner at Kahramaa’s corporate planning and business development department.

A second site at Al-Khararah has been identified for a solar power plant, which would help fulfil the requirement for 3,500MW of new capacity in 2013.

Kahramaa plans to generate 20 per cent of its power from renewable resources by 2036. However, it is difficult to see how it could bring so much solar capacity on line without breaking it up into much smaller components.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company is preparing to tender the world’s largest solar power project, but this will generate only 100MW of power (MEED 25:1:08).

“Al-Khararah is a big desert area,” says Salah Hamza, senior business planner at Kahramaa.

“There is ample space there. You can have up to 500MW in one place. Then you will need about seven sites because the total capacity needed at that time is 3,500MW.”

Solar capacity could be increased to 4,500MW by 2036.The nuclear and solar options are mutually exclusive, however, and Kahramaa says under the most likely demand forecast, it would adopt solar power rather than nuclear generation.

“If there is lower demand, the capacity of a nuclear plant will be too high,” says Hamza. “But you can always get solar in small units.”

A high-demand scenario would make the nuclear option feasible. “Nuclear is only good if you go for a high demand forecast,” says Hamza. “You have to install a big unit.”

Opting for alternative sources of power generation will allow Qatar to make better use of its gas reserves. Exporting gas at international market prices or using it in the petrochemicals industry will mean more revenues for Doha.

“The other reason is the environment,” says Hamza. “There are international limits on carbon dioxide emissions. We are approaching that limit now. Surely one day we will not be allowed to burn more gas.”

Alternative energy will not replace conventional power generation using fossil fuels in the short term. As well as the Umm Bab and Al-Khararah sites, three other locations have been identified for new projects.

A 240MW open cycle gas-fired plant will be built at Rawdat Rashed in 2011, and two further 335MW combined-cycle plants have been proposed. One of these could come on line at Umm Bab in 2015, while a second is planned for 2030 at Ras Rakan. More generation sites are being considered at Mesaieed and Ras Oshairij. Smaller sites are also being evaluated for solar generation in the west of the country.

If Kahramaa acquires these sites, it will modify its plans and transfer some capacity to the added locations.

Kahramaa’s water production plans are equally significant. In a high-demand scenario, a 160,000-cm/d desalination plant will begin operation at Sumaismah in 2016. Its capacity will then be expanded to 480,000 cm/d in 2020 and 740,000 cm/d in 2024.

A second plant with an initial capacity of 180,000 cm/d will come on line at Ras Rakan in 2024. It will grow to 260,000 cm/d in 2028 and 720,000 cm/d by 2032. Finally, a plant with capacity of 260,000 cm/d will begin operating at Ras Abu Fontas
in 2028.

If demand proves to be lower, only some of these projects will go ahead, although it is not yet clear which ones would be cancelled.

Sites at South Saline, Fuwairit, Mesaieed and a location on the west coast of the country are also under consideration for future desalination projects.

All the projects identified in the study are at the planning stage and it is unlikely that they will all go ahead. “The earlier the date, the more definite the project,” says Hamza. “We can call the projects between 2011-2015 semi-definite. After 2015, no one can be sure.”

Considering that the design and tendering process for a project should start four years before it is due to come on line, work on the design of the 240MW power plant at Rawdet Rashed should begin in 2008. Kahramaa expects to issue a tender for the project in 2009.