The future of energy and technology in the Middle East

27 May 2020
The co-existence of fossil-based, renewable and other clean energy sources will increase the complexity of the grid

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2016, efforts to realise a low-carbon society have gathered pace. The Middle East could emerge as a region of great significance in the coming years, from the point of view of the energy mix it employs and by pioneering new clean-energy technologies.

The region witnessed a significant increase in investment for renewables capacity growth in 2018. The Middle East Solar Industry Association estimates that Middle East and North Africa (Mena) countries could see combined investments of up to $1tn between 2019 and 2023 to find alternative energy sources that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Clean-energy ambitions

The UAE government aims to invest AED600bn ($163.3bn) by 2050 to meet growing energy demand and ensure sustainable growth for the country’s economy. The UAE has set a long-term target of increasing the share of clean energy in the total energy mix to 50 per cent by 2050, and reducing the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 per cent.

Dubai aims to diversify its electricity generation mix so that clean energy comprises 25 per cent by 2030 and 75 per cent by 2050. It is also focusing on green energy, green cities, green investments and green technologies.

The Middle East Solar Industry Association estimates that Mena countries could see combined investments of up to $1tn between 2019 and 2023 to find alternative energy sources

In Saudi Arabia, energy consumption is estimated to increase threefold from present levels by 2030. The country has set a clean-energy target of 27.3GW by 2024 and 58.7GW by 2030. The Saudi government also aims to localise a significant portion of the energy value chain with specific focus on renewables, research and development (R&D), and manufacturing.

Meanwhile, other Middle East countries, including Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt and Lebanon, are also aiming to achieve a significant percentage of renewables in their energy mix by 2030.

Gas-fired power plants

However, renewable energy generation is still intermittent and variable. Natural gas overcomes this challenge while also supporting climate and environment protection agendas, serving as a crucial ingredient of the power mix. Gas turbine combined-cycle power plants are agile, with fast start-stop times and load ramp-up/down rates, as well as being efficient and relatively environmentally compliant.

For example, today’s state-of-the-art gas turbines in power projects around the world yield record power generation efficiencies and low emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. Gas-fired plants provide greater flexibility in the power mix, filling in the gaps when renewables fall short. This makes them extremely viable for the Middle East region, which has rich reserves of natural gas.

The gas turbine market in the Middle East is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, off the back of rising energy demand and a shift in focus towards a more efficient and environmentally friendly energy mix

Hydrogen for energy generation

Hydrogen is emerging as an important element in the energy landscape. The use of hydrogen in electricity generation emits only water vapour and no carbon dioxide. Moreover, hydrogen can help decarbonise traditional gas-fired power plants, where existing gas turbine fleets are being piloted to burn hydrogen mixed with gas, with the goal of reaching a 100 per cent hydrogen fuel gas composition with minimal modifications to existing gas-turbine technology.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), which develops special fuels for its gas turbines, is engaged in transforming a 440MW natural-gas-fired gas turbine combined-cycle power plant in the Netherlands into a 100 per cent hydrogen-fired plant by 2025. It is expected that this will reduce its carbon dioxide emission from 1.3 million tonnes a year (t/y) to almost zero.

The company is also involved in the world’s biggest renewable energy storage project. The Advanced Clean Energy Storage (Aces) project aims to develop 1,000MW of clean-energy storage using excess electricity from renewables to create green hydrogen. MHPS anticipates that the initial hydrogen storage capacity will be able to serve the needs of 150,000 homes by 2025.

Aces will be used to supply green hydrogen for an 840MW power plant using two M501JAC power trains for the Intermountain Power Agency in Utah, US. Initially, it will operate with a mix of 30 per cent hydrogen and 70 per cent natural gas. This MHPS technology roadmap aims to use 100 per cent renewable hydrogen as a fuel source, which will allow gas turbines to produce electricity with zero carbon emissions.

The gas turbine market in the Middle East is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, off the back of rising energy demand and a shift in focus towards a more efficient and environmentally friendly energy mix. The use of hydrogen-based technologies can complement this growth and help governments and power producers achieve better results in terms of both efficiency and sustainability.

The Middle East has everything necessary to achieve the ideal energy mix in coming years

Smart plants and grids

The future of power generation will have a combination of fossil-based, renewable and other clean-energy sources. The co-existence of these technologies will increase the complexity of the grid and there will be a need for smart, artificial-intelligence-based solutions.

In April, MHPS began commissioning T-Point 2, a new gas turbine combined-cycle (GTCC) power plant testing facility at Takasago Works, Japan. Once commercial operations begin in July, T-Point 2 is expected to achieve power output of more than 566MW (60Hz), with nearly 64 per cent efficiency and 99.5 per cent reliability. T-Point 2 is expected to become the world’s first autonomous combined-cycle power plant featuring the Tomoni, MHPS’s suite of intelligent digital solutions.

Machine learning technology and the use of metering, data collection and analytics within smart, connected power networks will help overcome the intermittency of renewable energy. It will also capitalise on the comparative advantages of other generation technologies to optimise the system, making it more reliable, resilient and stable. Machines will automatically divert excess power into energy markets when the generating conditions are strong and supplement the energy supply when there is not enough sun or wind. 

The Middle East has everything necessary to achieve the ideal energy mix in coming years: the world’s largest gas reserves, optimal weather conditions for renewable energy, and the strong backing of its governments for driving innovation in technology and investments in the energy space.

This places the region in an enviable position to address its future energy needs and lead the transition to clean energy.


About the author

Khaled Salem is president of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Middle East and North Africa

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