Egypt can make considerable progress, over the next 5-10 years, in decarbonising its power sector, says Abdurrahman Khalidi, Chief Technology Officer at General Electric (GE) Gas Power MENA and South Asia.
Talking to Daily News Egypt, Khalidi said that this will happen if Egypt retires old, inefficient assets that have reached the end of their life.
He also said that Egypt can adopt solutions to help reduce carbon emissions from the remaining existing asset base. This includes implementing upgrade technologies that can help enhance fuel efficiency or the conversion of gas turbines from simple cycle operations to combined cycle operations. He added that in doing so, Egypt can get a better return on past investments.
The interview touched on the second wave of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and how it will impact the competition time of GE projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Khalidi also noted the expectation for Egypt to fully transition to using clean energy, and the challenges of decarbonising the power sector in both the MENA region and Egypt. The interview looked at GE’s plans in alternative energy for the MENA region, and the opportunities in this area in both the region and Egypt.
How do you expect the second COVID-19 wave to affect the completion time of GE projects planned in the MENA region?
GE’s number one priority is the health and safety of our employees. We are working closely with local governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), and others to actively monitor the outbreak and take all necessary precautions.
The work we do provides mission-critical equipment and services across the energy, healthcare, and aviation sectors, and we are proud of our employees that continue to make sure we can deliver for our customers and partners during their time of need.
We have implemented safety measures and flexible work arrangements to help protect our employees and prioritise everyone’s health and safety. We have also implemented site emergency medical response plans, and we have new workplace protocols to help protect against the virus. These include reinforcing personal hygiene best practices, and an increased frequency of disinfection of common areas.
GE has robust business continuity plans, and we are committed to taking all reasonable steps to mitigate disruption to our delivery schedules, while prioritising everyone’s health and safety. Looking back at the past year, I am proud to say that our teams continued to rise to the challenge and deliver results for our customers and the communities we serve across the region despite the pandemic.
This includes servicing power generation equipment and building new power plants. There were three factors that really helped us to build resilience and continue to operate despite the challenges posed by the pandemic: local teams and facilities; a focus on lean, which helped identify and reduce waste; and the adoption of advanced technologies.
In Kuwait, in less than a month, GE and FieldCore, a GE-owned field services execution company, teams logged up to 7,000 work hours despite the lockdown. If we did not have these people in the country, there could have been up to 1,500 megawatts (MW) down, which is 10% to 15% of the country’s power.
At GE Gas Power’s Jebel Ali Service Center in Dubai, the team re-evaluated the repair line for stage 2 and 3 gas turbine shrouds using the lean principle of continuous flow. Consequently, repair times for each shroud fell from 42 to six days.
Using digital tools, our experts based in different parts of the world liaised with local site teams at various power plants to remotely support mechanical and commissioning works. One example of this was at Iraq’s Besmaya Power Plant. Remote support enabled us to complete services on four gas turbines, two steam turbines and six generators safely and on time, while continuing to execute wider operations and maintenance works at the site.
When do you expect Egypt to fully transform into a clean energy country?
If we look at the current installed base of power generation assets in Egypt, we can see that over 80% of the country’s power is generated by traditional fossil fuels, including up to half from gas. Many of Egypt’s gas turbines are new investments that were installed and commissioned in the past five to eight years, and have now enabled the country to become a net exporter of electricity.
Over the next five to 10 years, Egypt can make considerable progress in decarbonising the power sector by retiring very old, inefficient assets that have reached the end of their life. The country can also adopt solutions that can help to reduce carbon emissions from the remaining existing asset base.
This includes the implementation of upgrade technologies that can help enhance fuel efficiency or the conversion of gas turbines from simple cycle operations to combined cycle operations. In doing so, Egypt can get a better return on past investments.
Furthermore, there are both pre and post-combustion solutions to reach near zero carbon emissions over the longer term. For example, Egypt today has excess power, including renewable energy that can be utilised to produce green hydrogen. The country can also implement methane steam reforming to turn its natural gas reserves into blue hydrogen.
Both blue and green hydrogen can be utilised to achieve significant carbon emissions reduction, contributing to net zero carbon emissions in Egypt’s power sector. Similarly, carbon capture technologies can be implemented gradually, and wherever possible, to achieve a near zero carbon energy sector.
Can you describe some of GE’s plans in alternative energy for the MENA region? What are the opportunities, and what is Egypt’s share?
Renewable Energy is a cornerstone of our business in the region, and Egypt is no exception. We believe in the growth potential for a dynamic onshore wind segment in Egypt. The price of energy will be a key economic driver, and to make this happen, as a technology company, we must set the pace, which we are confidently able to do.
We believe in the growth potential for a dynamic onshore wind segment in MENA. The ambitious targets set by all countries of the region are expected to translate into a combined 80 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity by 2030 based on national plans to fulfil the countries’ ambitions, the establishment of policy, regulatory, technical and economic frameworks enabling the scaled-up deployment of renewables.
We are committed to this region, and we are working closely with customers to meet the local needs with the most adapted solutions, and support them in their wind energy journey. As an Original Equipment Manufacturer, we are investing in technology to drive electricity prices down, but we are also embracing new business models such as hybrids or sophisticated financing solutions to provide a more complete and personalised offering that creates value for our customers.
For example, in the Middle East, we have built the first utility-scale Dhofar wind farm in Oman, for a total capacity of 50 MW. For the Dhofar wind farm, GE developed a desert package, for the wind turbines to be able to stay online in Oman’s broiling midday heat.
This will translate into hundreds of extra MW hours per day for both our customer, the developer Masdar, and the country’s grid. Heat and sand make it difficult for normal wind turbines to operate in the desert, which requires a technological development to cool the turbines and keep the sand from getting inside the machine.
The desert package is a modification to our existing 3x turbine platform. We are excited about the vast potential of these turbines. Desert-resistant turbines can open huge swathes of barren, unused land in MENA for renewable electricity generation. The vast deserts of the region are all potential homes for a sandstorm-proof and heat-resistant turbine.
GE Renewable Energy has approximately 20% of the installed base of onshore wind in MENA and Turkey (MENAT), with turbines delivering power in Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. We are expanding our footprint to include projects in Oman and Jordan, and are excited for the wave of countries that are moving toward renewable power across the region.
What are the challenges for decarbonising the power sector in both the MENA region and Egypt?
The power sector accounts for up to 41% of global carbon dioxide emissions today. There are also up to 1 billion people around the world who still lack access to reliable energy and the demand for electricity is expected to continue to grow. This includes in the MENA region and Egypt, where population growth, industrialisation and urbanisation continue to fuel the need for more power.
Consequently, as the region looks to decarbonise the power sector, one of the biggest challenges will be to do so in a way that addresses the energy trilemma of increasing the sustainability of the power sector. It also needs to take into account enhancing access to reliable, uninterrupted electricity, and keeping electricity supplies affordable.
There are solutions available today that can help countries across the MENA region reduce the environmental impact of their power generation activities. In the more immediate to short term, upgrade solutions can be deployed to increase the output, efficiency, flexibility, lifespan, and availability of power generation equipment, while reducing fuel consumption and environmental impact.
In Egypt for example, GE’s Advanced Gas Path (AGP) solution was installed on four 9E gas turbines at the West Damietta Power Plant, helping to enhance fuel efficiency by up to 2.2%. It also increased the average output per turbine by over 4.5 MW, leading to a total output increase of 18 MW at the facility, the equivalent electricity needed to power up to 15,000 Egyptian homes.
Many power plants in the MENA region still use gas turbines that were installed in the 1980s, and continue to operate in simple cycle mode at efficiency levels below 30%. Converting them to combined cycle, something that can be accomplished in as little as 16 months, can enable them to produce up to 50% more electricity using the same amount of fuel.
In the more medium to long term, advanced technologies that offer higher efficiency and flexibility should be deployed to equip new power generation facilities. Gas power plants can often operate for 30 years or more, and hence adopting higher efficiency technologies, such as GE’s H-class turbines, which have already set two world records for combined cycle efficiency, can help power plant owners lower the emissions per megawatt of power generated for decades to come.
In the UAE, the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) is installing the technology at its upcoming 1.8 GW power plant in Hamriyah. Using three GE 9HA units in combined cycle operations, SEWA can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 4 million tonnes per year, compared to current levels, the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the UAE’s roads.
Hybrid technologies offer another means to address future energy needs. For example, Southern California Edison (SCE) and GE unveiled the world’s first battery-gas turbine hybrid system in Norwalk, California.
The system helps balance variable energy supply and demand, including during evening hours when the sun sets and solar power production falls while electricity usage surges as people turn on lights and appliances.
It is a state-of-the-art control system which seamlessly blends output between the battery and the gas turbine. The energy storage capacity of the battery has been specifically designed to provide enough time coverage to allow the gas turbine to start and reach its designated power output.
Therefore, the system does not need to burn fuel and consume water in standby mode to be able to dispatch power immediately when demand surges or renewable energy supplies decline.
Apart from combustion technologies, there are pre and post combustion solutions that can also help sustainability efforts. On the pre-combustion side, there are multiple approaches for low-carbon or carbon-free fuels, including the use of hydrogen for power generation.
Today, GE has the largest fleet experience in using alternative low heating value fuels including hydrogen for power generation. A world leader in gas turbine fuel flexibility, GE has more than 75 turbines operating on low heating value fuels, including blends of hydrogen and natural gas, accumulating over 6 million operating hours.
GE is already enabling the transition of a 485 MW combined-cycle 7HApower plant in Ohio, USA, to run on carbon-free hydrogen. Long Ridge Energy Terminal, which owns the plant, is collaborating with GE and New Fortress Energy to provide carbon-free power to customers by blending hydrogen in the gas stream and transitioning the plant to be capable of burning 100% green hydrogen over the next decade.
Several countries across MENA, which have tremendous potential to generate low-cost renewable power, are already exploring initiatives to produce green and blue hydrogen. As this fuel becomes more easily available and more economical, it can play a more significant role in the region’s energy mix.
We are already beginning to see hydrogen production projects being announced in the region. In Saudi Arabia, plans have been announced for a $5bn production facility in NEOM that will be powered by renewable energy for the production and export of green hydrogen globally. It will supply 650 tonnes per day of carbon-free hydrogen and is scheduled to be on-stream in 2025.
On the post combustion end, natural gas based combined cycle power plants can also be paired with CCUS technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions and provide cleaner power. Carbon capture and storage projects have operated globally in various industries since the 1990s, with projects operating in MENA as well, such as ADNOC’s CCUS project at the Al Reyadah facility in Abu Dhabi, which has the capacity to capture 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.