x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

FNC has long complained of shortages

Sharjah has suffered frequent power shortages in recent years.

Electricity and water shortages have been commonplace in the Northern Emirates in recent years, drawing repeated complaints from FNC members.

Rapidly increasing demand and new housing units in the region have caught the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (Fewa) by surprise, straining its resources and highlighting a lack of long-term planning to deal with increasing demand.

Sharjah has experienced frequent power shortages, blamed on a lack of sufficient fuel to meet the demands of residents during the summer months.

Recent debates at the FNC have highlighted overconsumption of water resources, particularly in agriculture. FNC members have also highlighted the need for a strategic water reserve, pointing to shortages when algal blooms off the coast have affected the operation of desalination plants. The plants provide drinkable water in a country with scant water resources.

In January last year, the FNC discussed the strategy of Fewa, which supplies electricity to the northern emirates. FNC members drew particular attention to the extent of electricity shortages in the region.

The FNC said Fewa lacked a long-term plan to deal with increasing electricity consumption.

Nearly 900 commercial buildings and residences were visited by an FNC committee set up to investigate the shortages. None of those visited had been supplied with electricity, although the vast majority had met Fewa's requirements for being connected to the grid.

Many of the owners had suffered large financial losses and faced legal proceedings for failing to make payments on bank loans because their businesses suffered from the lack of electricity.

There were frequent blackouts and brownouts, particularly during the summer, when electricity demand spikes, the FNC committee found.

Many owners had resorted to diesel generators to supply their own power, which resulted in public safety and environmental hazards, the committee said.

Mohammed al Hamili, the Minister of Energy and chairman of Fewa, said at the time that demand among Fewa's customers had risen by as much as 25 per cent a year since 2006, far exceeding the agency's expectations. The FNC committee also determined that Fewa did not have accurate data on water consumption and underground water supplies, and that it had no clear strategy to deal with rising water consumption.

The "rapid" and "unexpected" expansion in housing units in the northern emirates was greater than the ability of Fewa to provide electricity, said Dr Sultan al Muazzin, a former committee chairman at the FNC and a member from Fujairah.

He said the FNC's discussion of the shortages had helped to highlight the data for decision makers. The delay in providing a solution to the electricity shortages was the result of long-term studies to establish the actual needs of residents.

In 2009 Fewa responded to criticism by saying it had based its plans on six to eight per cent economic growth in the Northern Emirates, but were faced with an actual growth of between 17 and 22 per cent.

Long-term strategies for the future that take into account electricity and water consumption in the region over many years were needed to avoid a repetition of previous mistakes, Dr al Muazzin said.

The current steps are the latest in addressing widespread utility shortages. Last October, Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, ordered the construction of a 36km water pipeline to Ras al Khaimah that will go into operation this year, at a cost of Dh158 million, and two power plants in Kalba and Khor Fakkan for Dh220m, supplied by Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority.

The agency has already invested Dh4bn in developing the electricity grid in the northern emirates, and has poured Dh16bn into water desalination and power generation projects in Fujairah.

kshaheen@thenational.ae