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Gulf energy systems must be more climate resilient 

Intense heatwaves and flash floods challenge energy supplies in the region

Gulf energy systems Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed
A labourer tries to cool himself down in Manama, Bahrain in August

The Gulf is one of the regions most affected by climate change, and this is challenging energy systems that are already straining to meet the demands of economic growth.

Some of the global disruptions since the start of last year were a result of climatic conditions, and these are likely to increase over the coming decades. Ensuring energy systems are climate-resilient systems is more important than ever.  

Compared with the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), mean temperatures in the Gulf over the period 1995-2014 increased by 1.2C – higher than the world average (0.9C), according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

It is predicted that temperatures in the Gulf in 2081-2100 could rise by 2.5C from pre-industrial levels in a low-emissions scenario and around 6.3C in a high-emissions scenario.

Among other effects, these higher temperatures are likely to trigger peak electricity demand during summer as air conditioning becomes more and more widely used.

In Oman, peak electricity demand increased from 6,060MW in 2015 to 7,081MW in 2021, and this is largely attributed to greater use of air conditioning. The sultanate’s peak electricity demand is projected to continue rising by around 4 percent each year until 2027. 

Coping with the higher peak electricity demand can be challenging, since higher temperatures also curtail the efficiency of power generation and networks, adding further stress to the electricity system.

For example, the performance of natural gas-fired power plants, which account for the largest share of electricity generation (more than 70 percent) in the Gulf, can be affected by warmer air mass flow entering the gas turbine compressor. 

According to the IEA’s assessment, around 90 percent of the installed capacity of gas-fired power plants in the region face an annual addition of more than 20 hot days (when maximum temperatures go above 35C) over the period 2081-2100 in a low-emissions scenario. That increases to more than 60 days in a high-emissions scenario.

Gas-fired plants, in particular, fall in regions that face an increase in days when temperatures exceed 35C. Source: IEA

Clean energy technologies can also be negatively affected by increased heat.

Solar PV and wind power generation are generally designed for conditions around 25C and become less efficient during heatwaves.

Rising temperatures also cause power lines to heat up, expand or sag, reducing transmission capacity and leading to higher losses.

Most of the installed solar PV capacity in the Gulf would see an annual increase of more than 20 hot days in a low-emissions scenario, and over 60 days in a high-emissions scenario.

More than 75 percent of wind power plants could be exposed to an increase of 60 hot days annually under a high-emissions scenario, although the level of exposure could drop to 20 hot days in a low-emissions scenario.

To withstand the expected increase in extreme heat events, energy suppliers need to adopt more resilient designs for wind power plants and innovative cooling technologies for solar PV and thermal power plants.

Energy consumers are recommended to seek energy efficiency improvements in cooling devices to manage increased electricity peak demand in summer.

Gulf energy systemsReuters/Abdel Hadi Ramahi
A taxi drives through a flooded road after heavy rain in Dubai
Flash floods damage

In addition to increasing temperatures, more frequent and intense rainfall increases the risks of flash floods and poses additional concerns for the region’s energy sector.

Heavy rainfall and floods can disrupt electricity systems, causing physical damage to energy infrastructure and assets. 

For example, floods triggered by rainfall caused power outages in Jeddah last November, and in Oman’s Al Dakhliya and Al Batinah in May 2021.

If climate change is not mitigated, our data suggests the frequency of extreme precipitation events will jump by 21 to 58 percent in 2081-2100, compared with the region’s pre-Industrial period.

To minimise damage from rainfall and floods, energy suppliers need to consider physical system improvements such as flood walls, dikes, upstream sediment control facilities and water catchment management, plus the relocation of substations.

Both increased dry days and greater rainfall can impact energy generation. Source: IEA

Real-time flood monitoring with early warning systems also helps energy suppliers to activate emergency plans in a timely manner.

Governments can support the building of climate resilience with effective dissemination of flood risk information and coordination of emergency actions and recovery.

In the long term, they can establish a policy framework on energy sector resilience, and encourage the integration of climate considerations when developing of energy projects.  

Supporting ongoing and future efforts to build climate resilience and energy security in the Gulf also requires international cooperation.

The IEA is working with countries in the region and helping organisations undertake climate risk assessments for energy systems. 

Ultimately, all parties need to work together to understand the latest climate risk scenarios and identify tailored measures to strengthen climate resilience. 

Jinsun Lim is energy and environment policy analyst at the International Energy Agency. This exclusive article is based on the findings from the IEA’s research paper Climate resilience is key to energy transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, July 2023

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