High demand hits power distribution network in Bahrain

30 September 2010

Addressing the deficiencies in the kingdom’s poor transmission and distribution network will be key to meeting rising power demand

Bahrain was rocked by a series of major power outages in the summer of 2010. In one of the worst incidents, residents of Isa town had to endure more than 30 hours without electricity in temperatures of more than 45C after the power network buckled under the unprecedented demand.

The installed capacity should have been just able to meet the surge in 2010 peak power demand

Manama’s response was swift. Within days it had signed up to import 150MW of Qatari power in what was the first cross-border transaction through the GCC electricity grid. But while the need for imports will be temporary, addressing the deficiencies in the kingdom’s poor transmission and distribution (T&D) network will take much longer.

Installed capacity

According to Electricity & Water Authority (EWA) data, the kingdom’s installed generating capacity should have been just able to meet the surge in 2010 peak power demand. The system recorded a peak load of 2,708MW on 25 August, a year-on-year rise of 11 per cent caused by strong economic and population growth. While this was perilously close to available 2009 capacity, it was well short of the September 2010 figure of 3,150MW, which included the first 400MW from the Addur independent water and power project (IWPP).

Bahrain power factfile, 2009
Installed generating capacity (MW)2,735
Peak power demand (MW)2,438
Growth in peak power demand (%)5
Reserve power margin (%)11
Largest generatorHidd Power Company
Number of power customers>200,000
Number of IPPs/IWPPs concluded3
Additional capacity requirement by 2019 (MW)2,285
Estimated cost of required capacity ($bn)2.7
IPP=Independent power project; IWPP=Independent water and power project. Source: MEED Insight

With a further 830MW of capacity due to be commissioned in 2011, the Addur plant should be sufficient to tide the kingdom over until 2013/14. What happens after that remains unclear. Manama could conceivably resort to power imports again. A more likely scenario is that it will proceed with its fourth private power project as was originally envisaged in the long-term development plan for the Addur site.

The big question over Addur 2, if it were to be built, is where the plant’s feedstock will come from. Hydrocarbons-poor Bahrain has no new gas allocations available, a situation that has held up additional industrial capacity, such as the expansion of the Aluminium Bahrain smelter, and forced Manama to assess a range of different energy options. For years, it discussed with first, Qatar and then, Iran, the possibility of importing gas by pipeline.

However, with little apparent progress being made on either front, the kingdom has now turned its attention to liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports, having recently invited prequalification for an LNG terminal. The move mirrors the steps taken by Dubai and Kuwait, which have both turned to imported LNG as a solution to their gas feedstock problems. Manama may also look to renewable energies, such as wind and solar power and even nuclear energy as it seeks to reduce its reliance on imported fuels.

At the same time, Manama is hopeful that further development of the onshore Awali field will increase local gas supplies. In 2009, the US’ Occidental Petroleum Corporation and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development signed an agreement to develop the field and double its output.

Private power is now an established feature of the generating landscape in Bahrain. Since the award of the inaugural Al-Ezzal IWPP in 2004, two more projects, at Hidd and Addur, have been implemented.

Developers account for three-quarters of installed capacity, with France’s GDF Suez the largest. It has been involved in all three private projects and, including Addur, has equity capacity of almost 1,300MW.

In contrast, private sector investment in the network is non-existent and appears not to be on the government’s agenda for now at least. In any case, it is debatable whether any private investor would invest in the network given its present state.

During the recent power cuts, EWA officials acknowledged the distribution network, particularly in heavily populated areas, was simply unable to cope with the load and frequently tripped. They also admitted that old cabling was a major problem, but claimed that a cable replacement programme would solve the issue when it was completed in 2011. Finally, the authority blamed some recent outages on contractors digging up underground cables either by mistake or without approval.

Core issues

EWA announced following the power cuts that it would lease more mobile generators and increase the number of emergency maintenance teams. However, such actions do little to address the core problem, the state of the network and the need for new investment.

Investment in T&D infrastructure has increased. A 10-year, 11kV distribution programme was launched in 2007 and has been implemented in tandem with the latest phase of the kingdom’s 66kV transmission programme, which covers the construction of 15 66/11kV substations. In 2009, the authority launched its first 400kV programme, which called for the construction of two 400kV substations by 2013. However, EWA’s network ambitions have been handicapped by financing issues. Manama has to rely on funding from multilateral and bilateral agencies, which has in some cases delayed projects.

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