Dubai pursues smart grids

Published in MEED, 24 August 2015

Some smart city ideas can seem futuristic and improbable, but the first steps are already being taken around the region in the prosaic world of electricity networks.

US consultancy Northeast Group reckons $17bn will be invested in ‘smart grid’ systems around the region in the next 10 years, in areas such as smart metering, home energy management and battery storage. “Most of the near-term investment will be in GCC countries,” says Chris Testa, research director at the firm. “Countries such as Egypt will make up a larger share of investment, beginning in the early-to-mid-2020s”

Among those pushing ahead is Dubai Water & Electricity Authority (Dewa). In 2014, it announced a three-pronged effort to modernise its network and promote energy efficiency.

The first initiative is to install solar panels on buildings around the emirate. The electricity generated will be used onsite, with any surplus exported to the network. The second element involves the installation of smart meters, which allow customers to easily monitor their consumption and, it is hoped, reduce their electricity use and cut their bills. The third element is to install electric vehicle charging stations around Dubai.

Of the three, it is smart metering that will affect most people first. Dewa plans to install 200,000 devices by January 2016. More than 1 million should be in place by 2020. That could, in turn, open the way for other smart city services down the line.

“Most smart grid investment begins with smart metering. It allows utilities to gain the real-time data that is necessary for many other functions of a smart grid,” says Testa.

“A communications network implemented for smart electricity metering or distribution automation can in some cases also be used for other smart city applications such as smart street lighting, smart traffic controls, or smart water and gas metering. Smart grids also create millions of data points that cities can analyse to improve operations citywide.”