Major power generation projects form a key part of the Western Region’s development programme in Abu Dhabi.

The power schemes are being developed to meet rapidly rising demand for electricity in Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates. The UAE capital reported steady annual demand growth of 6 per cent in the five years to 2008. Since then, it has consistently recorded growth of more than 10 per cent a year, reaching a decade high of 13.9 per cent in 2011 as peak demand hit 7,683MW.

The Western Region power schemes are not only important to Abu Dhabi’s development in terms of increasing power capacity, but are also pioneering, with nuclear and renewable technologies replacing traditional generation methods. The largest of these projects currently planned or under way is the ambitious $20bn Baraka nuclear project, with the first phases currently under construction.

Nuclear ambitions

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), which is leading the development of nuclear power in the UAE, awarded a South Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) a $20bn contract to build four reactors in 2009. The first is scheduled to come online in 2017, with the remaining three planned for completion in 2020.

The first [reactor on Abu Dhabi’s Baraka nuclear scheme] is scheduled to come online in 2017

In March this year, the nuclear scheme reached a milestone when Enec applied for a licence from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation to build a third and fourth nuclear reactor at the Baraka site in Al-Gharbia. Enec received approval to build the first two nuclear reactors in July 2012.

Preparation works for the first reactor are already well under way. Construction work on the Baraka 1 unit began immediately after approval was received. In November 2012, Kepco said it had completed almost 23 per cent of the construction work for units 1 and 2, and was running eight weeks ahead of schedule. In March 2013, Enec said the containment liner plate had been installed in the unit 1 nuclear reactor building.

Enec hopes to begin pouring safety concrete in unit 2 before the end of 2013 and plans to apply for an operating licence for the first reactor in 2015. Since the appointment of Kepco to build its nuclear plant, Enec has continued to award major contracts on the scheme. In August 2012, it signed contracts worth a total of $3bn with six international firms to supply nuclear fuel, and conversion and enrichment services for the four reactors being developed in Abu Dhabi. Each of the four reactors will produce 1,400MW of electricity.

Abu Dhabi is also pioneering the UAE’s renewable energy efforts, and on March 17 this year, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) inaugurated its Shams 1 solar power plant in Al-Gharbia. The scheme is the largest concentrated solar power plant currently under operation in the world.

The Shams 1 facility has been developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture of Masdar, which has a 60 per cent stake in the project, Spain’s Abengoa Solar and France’s Total, both of which have 20 per cent stakes.

The 100MW grid-connected plant will generate clean energy that will power 20,000 homes in the UAE. The project covers a total area of 2.5 square kilometres and contains more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors. The solar system concentrates heat from direct sunlight on to oil-filled pipes, which enables the plant to produce steam. The steam drives a turbine and generates electricity.

Focal point

The Shams 1 project is expected to reduce the UAE’s carbon emissions by about 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. With the recent opening of this project and the continuing progress with the Baraka nuclear scheme, Abu Dhabi’s Western Region is set to remain a focal point of the UAE’s power market in years to come.