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Rolls-Royce sees Mena as ‘driver’ for green power growth

Grass, Plant, Tree Rolls Royce
Rolls-Royce's small modular reactors could be operational in the Middle East in the 2030s
  • Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE are priority countries
  • Electricity microgrids can support renewable energy sector
  • The engineering company is also developing mini-nuclear power plants

The Middle East and Africa’s rapid urbanisation and push to decarbonise power generation is a “great economic driver” for Rolls-Royce, the British engineering firm’s regional chief told AGBI.

Rolls-Royce is one of the world’s top aero engine manufacturers, supplying civilian and military craft, although its power systems division provided 26.4 percent of its £12.69 billion ($15.3 billion) of underlying revenue in 2022.

“We see a huge growth in the built environment in the Middle East and that therefore creates fantastic opportunities for providing green power solutions to enable that growth,” said John Kelly, Rolls-Royce’s president for Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

Aviation and defence comprise around three-quarters of Rolls-Royce’s business in the region, Kelly said.

Power systems make up the remainder and include the company’s electricity microgrids, which Kelly believes can support the region’s renewable energy sector.

Microgrids feature ultra-efficient diesel generators that provide back-up electricity for intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

The generators, which can also run on synthetic diesel, ensure continuous electricity at facilities such as data centres that cannot risk suffering power outages.

Future back-up generators will use hydrogen fuel cells instead, said Kelly.

He highlighted Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE as priority countries. “But we also see the likes of Egypt and Ethiopia as strong markets across all sectors (of) Rolls-Royce.

“The key thing that characterises all those markets is well-established civil aerospace and in some cases defence capabilities, plus a huge appetite to grow their economies sustainably.”

John Kelly, Rolls-Royce’s president for Middle East, Turkey and Africa. Picture: Roll-Royce

He described his region “as a great economic driver” for Rolls Royce.

“There’s a confluence of lots of growth and a desire and focus to do it sustainably,” Kelly said.

“A differentiator here is also the financial capability and muscle to make it happen in a quick way. That’s why the potential here is so great.”

Rolls-Royce is developing mini-nuclear power plants, or small modular reactors in the UK and these could be operational in the Middle East in the 2030s.

Each plant, which will occupy a footprint of two football pitches, could generate 470mw of energy ­– enough to power 1 million homes.

Kelly said: “A lot of the countries have got a recognition that nuclear will need to be part of their energy roadmaps. As the product develops, we believe it could be a good solution for the region.”

Rolls-Royce is working with Saudi Arabia “as a key partner at the country level”, he added.

“African countries also need to develop and embed sustainable technologies to allow their transition or growth in the energy sector as the continent develops,” said Kelly.

“They need to skip technologies. They can’t go through the history of carbon-powered energy generation. There’s an opportunity to jump straight into some of these new and sustainable technologies.”

Sustainable aviation

Aviation is proving to be one of the toughest industries to wean off fossil fuels, with the industry producing 2.1 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Rolls-Royce company believes that long-haul passenger aircraft will continue to rely on gas turbines.

Yet such engines can run on sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) blended with conventional kerosene in increasing proportions depending on regulatory limits.

Such alternative fuels fall into two key categories: biofuels and synthetic.

Biofuels have limited potential due to insufficient supplies of the organic materials such as fats and grains from which they are derived.

Synthetic fuels made via renewable energy offer more potential even if production costs are currently prohibitively expensive.

Making synthetic fuel will “require a lot of power”, said Kelly.

“One of the enabling technologies could be small modular reactors as a non-carbon source of a lot of power to drive an SAF plant.

“Not only can Rolls-Royce provide sustainable power solutions, but we can also use that technology to enable the region’s aviation sectors to decarbonise”.

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