Monday, August 5, 2013

Shagaya Project Important Step For Ensuring A Sustainable Future For Kuwait

DESPITE the myriad signs that renewable energy should be a greater focus of research in Kuwait — a fossil fuel supply that is bound to end in the foreseeable future, global warming and climate change, a heavily taxed environment, amongst others — things have been off to quite a slow start. Research has shown that renewable energy is only taken into consideration, both on a local and international scale, at times of oil crises, when prices peak highly. As such a focus on the attempt to build more long-term sustainable energy programs only peaked a few years ago, and as such remain in a seedling state.
The shift to greener means of producing energy acquired center stage in the international domain back in the seventies when oil prices touched new record highs. But a lack of will and misplaced priorities poured cold water on the initiatives delaying the emergence of the technology at least by three decades.
Dr Salem Al-Hajraf, Executive Director of the Energy & Building Research Center in the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research speaks to the Arab Times about the Shagaya project, which still remains in its preliminary phases, but hopes to eventually be able to build up to a 2000 mega-watt renewable energy plant, able to save up to 12.5 million barrels of oil a year, and more importantly prevent 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emission.
It is an important step for ensuring a sustainable future for Kuwait, and by the time the project is concluded in 2030, it should be able to serve 100,000 Kuwaiti homes. Time will tell whether it will serve as a pioneering force for the establishment of sustainable energy plans for the whole country.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself, and your educational and professional background.
Answer: My name is Salem Al-Hajraf, Executive Director of the Energy & Building Research Center at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. I am a mechanical engineer with more than 20 years experience in research and development, mainly in energy and environment.
I received my bachelor’s degree from Kuwait University, and my master’s degree and PhD from the Cranfield University in the UK. I also have a master’s degree in Business Administration from Kuwait University.
Q: What specifically are the activities of the Energy & Building Research Center under KISR? Is it purely research based, or do you work on implementation?
A: KISR is a research-based institution established in 1967, by a Japanese oil company. Since then we have developed seven strategic plans to focus on the issues of petroleum, food security, energy security, water security, environment and life science, plus techno-economic studies.
In the Energy and Building Center, we are running six different research programs out of 29 total research programs within KISR. These research programs include innovative renewable energy research program, energy efficiency technology research program, construction and building materials program, infrastructure risk and reliability program, a nuclear program for peaceful applications, and nanotechnology and material science research program. So these six programs are the focus of the entire center. The center is a newly established entity after a major restructuring of KISR. It started operation last April, so we are about 3 months old as a center, but as programs and departments, we have existed for a long time.
Q: What are the goals of the center and the renewable energy program?
A: Our goal is to secure future energy supplies, diversify energy resources to reduce the load on fossil fuel based energy resources and have a mix of renewable energy sources in Kuwait.
Q: When was the program established?
A: The energy program started from the mid ‘70s. With every strategic plan we introduce a new focus based on the feedback from the market and demands from both the private and public sector.
Q: What have been the most important findings that you have come across as part of the renewable energy program?
A: The most important finding in fact, we witnessed two cycles of renewable energy booms. The first one was in the mid 70s, during the first world oil crisis. That was a boom dependent entirely on the oil price. This boom was then diminished when the oil price went down to five dollars per barrel in the late 80s, and since then the attention to renewable energy became less attractive, until the early or mid 2000s, when the oil price went up to above one hundred dollars per barrel. The entire world — governments and private sectors, started to focus on exploring the utilization of renewable energy as a source of power. In this regard, we also renovated our renewable energy program and re-established it, starting from 2007-2008. It became a formal research program in 2010.
In terms of research, we have a large portfolio of research projects serving different key clients, such as Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, the Ministry of Electricity and Water, and most of the oil companies in Kuwait.
In early 2000, people started thinking about going back to renewable energy for a multitude of reasons, not just price. Oil prices reached a record high of 147 USD per barrel, which was way too costly than in the seventies. In addition to that, debates on climate change were getting louder. More and more countries began realizing the consequences of climate change and began to take efforts in the direction of greener solutions for our energy needs. Then there was the energy security issue. Each country has its own development plan and without having sufficient and cheap energy resources, the development of any country will be undermined.
So, we have mainly three driving forces behind the current renewable energy boom. Some countries began earlier by 2000 or 2001. However, the real boom began after 2005. And the efforts gained greater strength after 2008 when oil prices escalated further.
Q: What main projects are you working on?
A: A key project for our center that we are conducting right now is called Shagaya project. Shagaya project is one of the largest projects we ever conducted. It started as an idea, to utilize a mix of renewable energy in one location in order to increase the efficiency of production of electricity per square meter in the Kuwaiti desert. For that reason we conducted a feasibility study and a master plan to develop what we call Shagaya Multi-Technology Renewable Energy Park. This park should contain by the end of 2030 about 2000 mega-watt installed capacity.
Q: What are the different types of energy that are being used and researched in the project?
A: In this park we are trying to optimize the site based on different technology to maximize the output during peak periods, so that we can serve the grid during these periods, so we ended up having a mix of technologies.
A big part of it is solar-thermal. Another big part of it is solar-photovoltic. And another portion for wind. In addition to that we have also implemented energy storage technologies so that we can produce electricity during the night, when the sun sets during dark times and during calm winds.
Q: According to your evaluation, do you foresee that in the future, when Kuwait runs out of non-renewable energy resources, will it be prepared to handle the needs of the country with renewable energy resources?
A: Well, I think the end of the fossil fuel era will come, but in my opinion it is still too far, but this doesn’t mean that we should misuse these resourced. My perspective on this issue is instead of preparing the ground for after oil, which is an end that has very high uncertainty to be defined. We are targeting to diversify our resources, and prolong the life of existing resources. This is the philosophy of having renewable energy as a part of our energy mixture at this time.
Q: But so far renewable energy is not really used in Kuwait in terms of widespread consumption on either a public or commercial level?
A: Still, there is some application, but on a small scale, and what we call off-grid applications. The Shagaya project will be the first utility scale power-plant from renewable energy. We are trying to commission it so that by the first half of 2016 we have a 70 mega-watt power-plant in Shagaya.
This plant we are currently designing, and it has been divided into three main projects. The first one is 50 mega-watt solar-thermal, occupied with ten hours capabilities of energy storage. The second is 10 mega-watts PV plant, and 10 mega-watt wind plant. The total will be 70 mega-watts.
Q: Would you then estimate that by 2016 Kuwait may start using renewable energy on a wider scale?
A: We consider this as an introductory project, fully sponsored by the government. Hopefully, when we answer the unknown questions that are important for decision makers and the investors, the ground will be more comfortable and solid for large-scale deployments, to reach the 2000 mega-watts. But this 70 mega-watt plant is just the seed for the 2000 mega-watts.
Q: What are the main questions that need answering, and the main obstacles you face before renewable energy can be implemented on a wide-scale basis?
A: Well, the questions are the costs of kilo-watt hour produced, the cost of operation and maintenance, the effect of dust on the performance, the effect of extra heat that we have in Kuwait during the summer, the assessment of control of the plants, and many other technical and financial questions that we are still relying on feasibility studies to answer.
Q: Does your research give you any predictions or estimates of when natural energy resources might run out in Kuwait?
A: For this KISR has a whole center called the Petroleum Center, based in Ahmadi, near the oil sector hub of Kuwait. But we do not research these issues currently. We research how many barrels we can save every kilo-watt hour we produce from renewable. We can research how much carbon dioxide emission we prevent for every kilo-watt hour we produce, and key figures like this. How many jobs will be created for each kilo-watt hour installed and so on.
Q: What are the numbers in terms of the number of barrels that can be saved and the carbon dioxide emission that can be prevented?
A: For the Shagaya project we are expecting to generate about 5000 giga-watt hour per year once it is fully functional. This will save us 12.5 million barrels of oil every year, and it will save the environment about five million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Also, it will provide about ten thousand job opportunities during construction, and about twelve hundred job opportunities for operation and maintenance. This plant, once it is completed will serve about one hundred thousand Kuwaiti houses.
Q: It’s obvious why this is a more sustainable plan in general, but could potentially also be more financially sustainable?
A: This is the second step. As I said, the initial part of the project, which we can call Phase 1, will be fully sponsored by the government. The other phases, Phase 2 and 3 to reach 2000, we do hope that it will be led by the private sector, in the case that we succeed in answering precisely the questions that concern both private and public sectors.
Q: How grave a threat is climate change, and how effective will our efforts be in curtailing it?
A: Earlier this phenomenon was called global warming. Now they call it climate change, because some scientists said the world is getting hotter, while other said there is going to be a global freezing. So the United Nations decided to call it climate change. There is going to a change in climate is for sure, but in which direction we don’t know for certain.
Whatever it may be, everyone agrees that the risk comes from greenhouse gasses and that we have to reduce their emissions to avert the disaster. Any process that involves combustion using fossil fuels emits Co2, which is a greenhouse gas. By reducing the consumption of energy produced not through clean means we can definitely cut down the emission of Co2 to baseline levels.
The Co2 particulates in the atmosphere can affect the interaction between the earth and the sun. So any effort to reduce Co2 emissions will help in improving the environmental conditions in the long term. Other than this, renewable energy is a clean source of energy. It leaves no byproducts. There are no residues in any form. This is one of the main advantages of renewable energy.
While the energy you consume is clean and green, then you do not contribute to climate change. Once Co2 particulates are emitted into the atmosphere, they are difficult to control.
Dr Salem Al Hajraf is the Executive Director of the Energy & Building Research Center at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, and leads the Renewable Energy Research Program under the center, one of the six programs that take place under his leadership of the center.
He specializes in mechanical engineering, in which he has over 20 years of experience in research and implementation. He received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Kuwait University, his MS in Computational Fluid Dynamics from the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield University, England, 1997 and his PhD in Multiphase Flow Modeling, also from Cranfield.
He has extensive experience in various scientific research fields mainly in Environment and Energy including clean energy technologies, wind/solar energy applications, emergency preparedness, environmental rehabilitation, Air Quality Assessment, and numerical modeling. His experience covers initiation of research ideas, proposal writing, fund raising, team formation, project execution and documentation. Since 2001, Dr Alhajraf has managed and executed more than ten client-research projects and participated in many others. He has also participated as a key member of many scientific and organizing committees of several national and regional conferences, workshops and symposiums. He has more than 20 publications in pre-reviewed scientific journals and conferences.
* Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance, Kuwait University, 2008.
* PhD in Multiphase Flow Modeling, School of Mechanical Engineering, Cranfield University, England, 2001.
* MS in Computational Fluid Dynamics, College of Aeronautics, Cranfield University, England, 1997.
* BS in Mechanical Engineering, Kuwait University, 1993.
By Joana Saba
Arab Times Staff