Is Bahrain Ready For Sustainable Energy?

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Gulf Insider presents a special interview with the Minister for Electricity and Water Affairs.

H.E has graced two prominent positions as the Minister of Energy and Minister of EWA in the Kingdom. May I ask, which position best enables you to implement your plans for sustainable development in the country and why?

As part of my present responsibility as the Minister responsible for Electricity and Water sector, and my previous responsibility as the Minister of Energy with the responsibility at the time of Oil and Gas sector as well as Electricity and water sector, I have given particular attention to the different aspects of Go GREEN principles particularly renewable energy applications and the related Government objectives to give further emphasis and support for the expansion of Green energies in the total energy equation in Bahrain. At the Government level, it has been agreed that these strategies are spearheaded by the Minister responsible for Electricity and water sector. In this regard, and to support the development of the renewable Energy policies, the Government approved the following:

H.E. Dr. Abdulhussain Bin Ali Mirza
H.E. Dr. Abdulhussain Bin Ali Mirza
  • Adoption of the “Net-Metering policy” for all customers seeking to install distributed renewable energies on their premises.
  • The following renewable energy projects are being considered to facilitate the 5% renewable energy target by 2025: The first of our focuses has been to support opportunities for renewable energy for electricity production.

In the alternative energy solutions, we are also considering waste to energy (W2E) conversion. Disposal of waste is an important environmental and logistical concern. With the highest per capita municipal waste – 1.5 m tonnes per annum of municipal solid waste, Bahrain is seeking to develop the Askar Waste to Energy Project. We are looking at various technologies including waste incineration facility which can treat 390,000 tonnes of solid waste per year and yield up to 50 MW of electricity. The push is in keeping with similar projects in the GCC that seek to boost waste-to-electricity generation in the region to 3 TWhr by 2017.

Further, ((EWA)) has been assessing Bahrain’s potential for solar and wind resources and in this context there are two projects in the streamline, the first is the construction of the a combined solar and wind technologies 5 MW plant in Al_Dur to evaluate the effectiveness of these sources under Bahrain local conditions for large-scale applications in the future. We are also considering another project to utilize the available surface roofs of ground storage water tanks and install Photovoltaic systems for the generation of electricity.

Lack of freshwater resources and the coastal degradation are two of the major environmental issues faced by Bahrain. What are the immediate steps taken by Ministry of Electricity & Water Affairs to curb these issues?

Coastal ecosystems in the Arabian Gulf is continuously subject to human disturbance either by direct physical damage or by deterioration of the water quality resulting from increasing levels of pollution. The main anthropogenic impacts in the GCC waters are hypersaline water discharge from desalination plants, reclamation and dredging, industrial and sewage effluents, and oil pollution. We are trying to curb damage resulting from desalination water discharge as well as protect the fresh water resources available in Bahrain by reducing the abstraction rate.

The available water capacity available to ((EWA)) is around 186 Million imperial gallons per day (MIGD), almost all it produced by desalination with the fresh water resources i.e. ground water abstraction levels reduced to almost zero in September 2016, as depicted in the chart above, in order to preserve these precious resources…

A high level Ministerial Committee ((The Water Resources Council – WRC)) headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, is actively pursuing a wide range of initiatives that will yield better protection of the available water resources and a unified water strategy is being developed at the moment to ensure safe, secure and sustainable water resources for the Kingdom. The council focal works is intended to achieve:

  • Re-establishing proper coordination between the entities responsible for water, namely EWA, the Ministry of works (Treated Sewage Effluent – TSE) and Municipalities and Urban planning (Ground water resources).
  • Development of an integrated water institutional framework.
  • Development of legal instruments and higher level water policies which will contribute to better water security and thus safeguarding environmental degradation and conserving biodiversity.
  • Ensuring long term availability of water for future generations.
  • Reinforcing cooperation with the neighbouring countries
  • Protection of environment and ensuring sustainable development
  • Incorporating biodiversity assessment into the legal system and implementing the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

There was an outcry on the news on the increment of electricity & water bills in the Kingdom. Have you by any chance considered that such an action will make the public aware of the value of these resources?

It is important for the public to understand the value of the natural resources available and their sustainability for the future generation as well as preserving the environment. Before March 2016, the Government has provided large subsidy levels to the electricity and water sector, the unit of electricity was sold to the customer at a fraction of its real cost, with the tariff price ranging between 3 Fils/kw in the lowest bandwidth of consumption to 16 Fils/kw in the highest bandwidth. This was clear in the electricity and water bills which clearly showed the sold unit …. the median actual cost of the electricity unit (i.e. a KWhr) delivered to the customer – calculated (in 2016 financial data) at 29 Fils per KWhr. The actual cost represents the combination of capital expenses of the required expansions for the production, transmission and distribution facilities, or what is called the investment cost and the cost resulting from the operation of these assets, namely the operation, maintenance and fuel costs.

Throughout the economic boom period, all customer sectors were benefiting from these heavy government subsidies, including Bahrainis, and otherwise whether financially able or not, government and ministries and commercial and industrial sectors of customers. The table below shows the heavy subsidies injection for the fiscal years 2013 – 2015, the government has been injecting just below 1 billion US$ per year (BD 350 million), in the sector to cater for the electricity and water subsidies.

Level of Government budget support for the Electricity and water in Million BDFiscal Year
3502013 & 2014
230Budget 2017
189Budget 2018

These have posed unprecedented financial burdens on the government and cannot be sustainable, and will surely require heavy energy investments over the next ten years, if nothing is done or Business as usual.  These investments include power and water production through all forms of fossil fuel sources. It is also important to remember that the available production of electricity and water have been possible through the abundance availability of natural gas resources. Due to the continued growths, the prime energy resources are reaching their available limits and soon we may be compelled to import further gas requirements from the international market.

All EWA customers should understand that such energy consumption, we cannot continue “business as usual” and we require definitive plans to curb the per capita consumption.

In the medium to long term, this is surely impacting the ability of to be self-sufficient in the natural gas resources required. These dynamics have compelled the government to embark on restructuring of subsidies and the new tariff structure for various sectors was implemented starting 1st March 2016.

Through the restructuring of the tariff, we are confident that customers will realise the real cost of electricity and water services and will take active steps to improve their response for Go GREEN principles and we believe all consumption sectors will undertake actions related to energy efficiency for appliances and equipment’s and better adherence to building codes and standards, as well as migration to renewables.

What is your message to the Kingdom’s public and the industries on Environmental protection?

My focal message to the public in large and the industries decision makers is to understand that the past thirty years, has been characterized by high per capita electricity and water consumption and high annual Electricity and Water growths. The source of energy to meet this high per capita electricity & water has been fossil fuel. Fossil fuel is one of the sources of Co2 emissions. Therefore, it is essential to reduce consumption and resort to cleaner energy such as renewables.

The growth in the energy demand in Bahrain has averaged around the level 6-8 % annually. Such demand growth rate in peak electricity system demand is alarming, and data further shows that the expected demand for total energy sector will continue at a pace of 4 % annually with the domination of “gas” at 83% as a primary energy, and the remainder 17% oil.

The electricity and water sector accounts for more than 43% of the consumption of the gas supplies.

It’s important for the public to understand that the electricity consumption levels per capita is high, and has averaged around the level of some 11,500 kilowatt-hours per capita.  This is mainly attributed to “unrestrained” consumption behavior during the past era. Such consumption levels exceed the world’s consumption average, and higher than the industrialized nations consumption, such as Europe and Japan.

The public should also understand that we are blessed with some of the highest solar radiation levels in the world as well as reasonable wind speeds.

I encourage all customers to support us in all the steps that we are undertaking in energy efficiency as well as renewable energy… they should seriously look at renewable energy opportunities especially with the capital cost prices for renewables going substantially down, to obtain a competitive price of electricity as well as reduce pollution emitted from power plants operating with natural gas.