Bahrain hopes to build new power plants and increase energy efficiency as energy consumption rises

The state agency responsible for utilities, the Electricity and Water Authority (EWA), is working on a vast upgrade of the 220-KV electrical transmission network, as well as an expansion of power generation capacity. While most of the new megawatts will come from the Al Dur phase two expansion, the EWA is also developing smaller-scale solar and waste-driven power generation plants to diversify the country’s energy mix.

Upward Trend

In 2013 countries around the world saw particularly high average temperatures. Indeed, 2013 was one of the hottest years on record, with the combined global land and ocean surface temperature 0.62°C above the 20th century average, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Despite the warm weather and increased use of air conditioning, Bahrain was able to avoid a prolonged energy crisis. Peak usage for 2013 in Bahrain occurred in September, when electricity demand reached 2917 MW. During the previous summer, peak demand also reached over 2900 MWh, according to World Bank figures. However, peak usage is a fraction of the kingdom’s 6600 MW of electrical power generation capacity. Bahrain relies on 4000 MW of public sector power generation and 2000 MW from independent power producers (IPPs). A final 600 MW worth of electricity is imported from the GCC’s interconnection grid, which allows for member states to swap electricity with one another to help meet peak demand. Thus, the kingdom’s total power generation and importation capacity is still roughly twice its demand. The brief power outages speak to the need for an upgrade to transmission lines, rather than a lack of power generation capacity. Yet, with Bahrain’s economy growing steadily and an array of new industrial projects in the planning stage, the country is moving ahead with plans to build more power plants to stay on top of future demand.

The World Bank data shows that by 2020 energy demand within the kingdom will reach 19,706 GWh. Until then, Bahrain is expected to experience a monthly peak demand of 4312 MW. Domestic electricity demand is growing by 7-10% per annum, which is driven by a housing programme, population growth and the needs of the industrial sector. To meet the growing demand, Bahrain has launched ambitious plans to expand power generation capacity, which calls for phase two of the Al Dur independent water and power project (IWPP), as well as the construction of new, smaller power plants. When the Al Dur expansion is completed in 2016, another 1200-1500 MW of power will be generated. Bahrain also aims to set up three new power plants in Al Hadd, Umm Al Hassam and Al Rafah. The first of these plants will be operational by 2016, and all three plants are planned to be completed by 2019. At a combined cost of around $5bn, Al Dur was designed with space for two expansion phases, and the EWA launched planning for the first of these in late 2014.


The Al Dur IWPP began operations in 2012. The primary investors in the facility were GDF Suez and the Gulf Investment Corporation, both of which have been involved in IWPPs elsewhere. Al Dur’s present shareholders include Bahraini pension fund the Social Insurance Organisation, Bahrain Islamic Bank, Capital Management House, First Energy Bank and Instrata Capital. In addition to electricity, Al Dur also produces 218m litres of water per day. The IPP model has proved successful in Bahrain because it makes the financing and operating costs the responsibility of the private sector, freeing up the EWA to act as regulator instead. The phase two expansion of Al Dur will likely be of a similar cost to the original facility.

In 2011 a GCC development plan was created to help Bahrain with infrastructure and housing projects. The plan included assistance from a Saudi development fund, the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) and Abu Dhabi’s development fund. One of the projects being financed in Bahrain as part of the GCC development plan is a 400-KV transmission development scheme that would overlay the existing 200-KV network. Mott MacDonald is the consultant for the project, which consists of installing three 400/220-KV substations and a 400-KV underground transmission cable. The project is expected to be completed in 2015. While the cost of the project is estimated to run as high as $740m, 34% of it will be funded by the KFAED. The funding for power plants at Al Hadd, Umm Al Hassam and Al Rafah is also expected to come from GCC sources.

Alternative Measure

Current alternative energy efforts in the kingdom are modest, but the three wind turbines installed at the Bahrain World Trade Centre, which has become an iconic structure, perhaps best represent the kingdom’s commitment to alternative power. In a country where 83% of energy is from natural gas and 17% from oil, according the International Renewable Energy Agency, even these modest efforts are important to developing a diversified energy mix. Bahrain’s power generation is likely to be driven by natural gas for the foreseeable future. Yet, the kingdom began the development of alternative energy projects in earnest in 2014. The most economically viable options are likely to be solar and wind projects.

In January 2013 the EWA announced plans to develop 3 MW of wind power projects and 2 MW of solar energy capacity. Additionally, a $30m, 5-MW solar power plant is meant to power the University of Bahrain and the nearby community of Awali. The project is a joint venture between the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) and the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company, as well as American firms Caspian Energy Holdings and Petra Solar. On paper, Bahrain has the capacity to develop 33 TWh per year from solar power, according to research from the Gulf Research Institute. Yet, based on the current limits of photovoltaic technology, the solar panels would need to be larger in size, and given the kingdom’s area of 765 sq km, space is an issue. Another possibility would be to install solar panels on existing structures and parking lots.

Bahrain’s small size also means waste disposal is an important environmental and logistical concern. With the highest per capita waste generation in the GCC and 1.5m tonnes per annum of municipal solid waste, Bahrain is seeking to develop the Askar Waste to Energy Project. The $480m waste incineration facility will treat 390,000 tonnes of solid waste per year and generate 25 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 2.7-3 TWh by 2017.

Increasing Efficiency

In the short term, the key issue for Bahrain will be improving power transmission. Compared to previous years, power outages were reduced by 27% in May and 18% in June/July of 2013, with the duration of power cuts also less than in previous years. In addition, the EWA is planning to introduce smart meters with remote reading systems to ensure the accurate and timely reading of power consumption. The deployment of smart technologies around the clock will help the EWA to diagnose and fix energy-related problems without a reduction in energy grid efficiency and will serve to curtail the risk of temporary shortages. With per capita energy consumption in Bahrain reaching 11,800 KWh in 2012, there is also a need to limit consumption. Per unit electricity and water costs are heavily subsidised in Bahrain. The subsidy on electricity alone cost the state roughly $925m in 2013, a sum equivalent to 27% of the annual subsidy budget. A gradual removal of electricity and water subsidies could be one part of a strategy to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

International Partners

Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030 foresees the development of new energy regulations to reduce carbon emissions. Efforts include everything from new building regulations to calls for the promotion of energy-efficient technologies in lighting, appliances and white goods. The EWA is working with a number of partners toward these goals. In April 2014 Mott Macdonald was tasked with developing the kingdom’s electricity and water plan from 2015 to 2030. The government of Bahrain is also looking to develop a renewable energy and conservation centre in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The programme was approved by Bahrain’s Cabinet in February 2013, after a meeting with the UNDP. The centre is likely to begin operations in the near future. Given the importance of this project, the centre will report to the EWA, the Ministry of Finance (MoF), NOGA and the Supreme Council of the Environment.

In September 2013 the MoF and the World Bank signed an agreement to work jointly on energy efficiency issues. The first phase of the programme was launched in October 2013 with the goal of developing a joint plan to increase energy efficiency, while the second and third phases will see the government move into implementation with support from the World Bank. Under the plan, the EWA formed a joint working group to carry out a comprehensive review of Bahrain’s involvement, looking at pollution and waste disposal, as well as water and energy use. One specific measure was a call for the application of thermal insulation to contribute more efficient use of air conditioning.

Some programmes are already being implemented. In March 2014 the EWA also signalled it would be exploring the use of solar-powered street lighting.

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