DELIVERING ENERGY SECURITY THROUGH EFFICIENCY
With global energy demand set to roughly double by 2050 compared to today's levels, ensuring uninterrupted energy supplies at affordable prices has become a top priority for most countries.
With global energy demand set to roughly double by 2050 versus today's levels, ensuring uninterrupted energy supplies at affordable prices has become a top priority for most countries.
Whether in Asia, Europe or in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf region, which is emerging as a major energy consumer in its own right, energy security has never been more important to ensure economic development, economic stability and economic security.
Improving energy efficiency – in other words using less energy to provide the same level of energy service – is integral to managing and restraining growth in energy consumption, and thus a powerful tool to ensure and sustain energy security.
Moreover, enhanced efficiency doesn't just save raw materials and energy; it also offers an alternative to new power generation investments and reduces emissions, in turn helping address critical topics such as global warming and climate change. It is of particular importance at a time when the production of energy is becoming increasingly intertwined with that of water and agriculture, putting all these vital resources under greater pressure as demand for all of them continues to rise on the back of rapid world population growth.
It is in this context that Qatar in November identified energy and water security as two of the grand challenges to be addressed through research and development (R&D) in coming years. Being one of the world's top energy consumers on a per capita basis, partly because of Qatar's heavy reliance on seawater desalination due to a lack of large freshwater resources, achieving greater energy efficiencies will be integral to developing a sustainable economy over the mid- to long-term.
Research into energy-efficient smart electricity grids, more efficient desalination and low-carbon technologies such as CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) – which is already under way in other parts of the world – could go a long way in helping address efficiency issues, both in Qatar and elsewhere and as a result deliver greater energy security and better resources management.
Steps are also under way in Qatar towards managing existing facilities in a more efficient manner and raising the general level of awareness on the issue. Under QNV2030 and the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016, the country aims to reduce the energy intensity of electricity consumption through awareness campaigns, standardisation and seasonal shutdowns, which will generate noticeable energy savings.
The country holds major hydrocarbon resources, including the world's third-largest gas reserves after Russia and Iran. The moratorium on the North Field, whose development has made Qatar's rise to the top of the world's liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporting nations possible, highlights the importance of extracting national hydrocarbon resources as efficiently as possible to sustain their availability and value in the long term.
Research and Development
Wherever efficiencies are being targeted, they won't be achieved without the application of innovative technologies and the development of new ones. The benefits are potentially enormous.
“The potential for advances in technology to increase recovery efficiency, even in small increments, will have huge impacts on the ultimate value extracted from Qatar's natural resources,” said Hamad Rashid Al Mohannadi, CEO of RasGas, at the The Gulf Intelligence Energy R&D Forum in Doha earlier this year.
Technological advances in the oil and gas industry have been rapid in recent decades and have triggered a period of transformational change throughout the industry.
In a survey conducted at The Gulf Intelligence Energy R&D Forum among nearly 150 leaders from academia, government and industry, more than three quarters of all respondents expressed the view that technological advances will drive another period of transformation in the next 10 years, as the world seeks to find solutions to the nexus of water, energy and food, of which energy efficiency will be a key element.
For Qatar, investing in R&D into energy-efficient technologies and solutions is important at a time when domestic electricity consumption continues to grow at a rate of about 7% annually, driven by rapid population growth and expanding industries, putting increased strains on existing natural gas resources to provide feedstock for the country's growing number of gas-fired power plants.
“The only way to face this challenge is to focus on the best possible means to improve utilisation of power plants, good cost control, power plant efficiency and power generation through other means such as renewables,” said Fahad Hamad Al Mohannadi, General Manager of Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC), at the forum. “Power stations should be run on maximum efficiency and old plants should be replaced with higher-efficiency plants.”
While Qatar doesn't face a gas shortage, freeing up the resource from being burned in power stations by increasing their efficiency and introducing more alternative energies, and thus saving gas for future use or diverting it into the development of new petrochemical production would add more value to the national economy.
The need for greater efficiency is also obvious in the water sector, where according to expert estimates, losses of desalinated water, produced with energy generated at gas-fired power plants, through distribution and delivery, range between 10% and 40% across the GCC.
Another example for the need to introduce greater efficiencies is the transportation sector, which accounts for more than half of the world's oil consumption and 28% of global energy use, of which around 40% is used in urban transport alone. Improving the energy efficiency of urban transport systems globally could save as much as QR254.8 trillion ($70 trillion) in spending on vehicles, fuel and transport infrastructure by 2050.
Qatar is addressing the issue with the construction of a tram system being built in Doha by Siemens that will consume up to 30% less energy per year than conventional tram systems. Utilising a technology called Sitras hybrid energy storage (HES), the trams will also produce less CO2 than vehicles without the HES systems, thus contributing to energy conservation and climate protection.
“When talking about maximising resources, there needs to be fundamental research aimed around how you expand the resource base and make more forms of energy available,” said one industry executive at the forum.
“That can be hydrocarbon resources or solar or anything. It's just about expanding that resource base because the energy demand of the future is going up. And it's significant because it ties to population growth and economic growth and all those factors. So one needs to look into the value chain. There's the diversification of the resource base and expanding supplies. But then there's also the kind, which is the energy intensity and efficiency. That's the other end of the value chain. You need to have dedicated streams of research there.”
But other complementary measures will need to be implemented by GCC governments to ensure they do indeed have the full desired impact, notably an upward review of domestic energy and water pricing. While reducing subsidies – or even thinking it out aloud – remains politically sensitive, it is an issue that will need tackling in one way or another in the not-toodistant future in the GCC, since the region's low energy and electricity prices have been the main contributors to strong energy demand growth and encouraged investments into inefficient infrastructure across all economic sectors.
With this in mind, achieving greater energy efficiency across the economy in Qatar, as in other Gulf states, will require the introduction of a comprehensive regulatory framework centred around a sustainable long-term policy that also addresses energy and water pricing. This will also have to include the provision of incentives and obligations to adopt energy-efficient solutions and technologies, which in turn will have to be monitored and enforced.
Many national and international energy companies are already pursing R&D and innovations at the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP).
At the executive level
But it is governments that hold the key to creating environments in which R&D can thrive – and there is increased recognition that R&D can play a key role in addressing the energy and socio-economic challenges in the region.
Over the past five years, Qatar has taken concrete steps to build up its domestic R&D capabilities and capacities, and at the same time implemented initiatives to enhance and expand capacity in its education system in order to build a society that embraces science and the advancement of technology.
The announcement of the three grand research challenges in November was an important step in that direction. As the country's R&D ambitions take shape, Qatar will, however, have to put an even greater emphasis on creating a broader environment conducive to innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration among the three key stakeholders tasked with realising its vision – industry, government and academia.
Going forward, national and international stakeholders will have to align on identifying the sectors and industries with the biggest energy-efficiency potential within Qatar's existing economic setup and take guidance from this on what areas stakeholders focus their R&D activities on