x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Heat wave strains power grids across GCC

Above-average temperatures in Kuwait are hospitalising labourers as other nations also record seasonal highs a month earlier than usual.

Abu Dhabi residents try to beat the heat yesterday.
Abu Dhabi residents try to beat the heat yesterday.

KUWAIT CITY // The GCC region is undergoing a heat wave that is hospitalising labourers, breaking down electricity substations and pushing power stations to the limit, experts and officials from across the region say. "It's a heat wave, it's unexpected, we are having extreme temperatures for this time of year," said Essa Ramadan, the senior meteorologist at the Kuwait Meteorological Department. In Kuwait, "it's seven to eight degrees [Celsius] above average".

The highest temperature ever recorded at Kuwait International Airport since it started taking measurements in 1957 was 51.3˚C in August 1998. Even though June is usually a cooler month, that temperature was matched this week. Weather stations in other areas of the country recorded temperatures as high as 54˚C. Mr Ramadan blames the high temperatures on global warming, which he said is changing the Earth's weather systems and has led to an average annual rise of between 0.5˚C and 0.8˚C in Kuwait over the last 53 years. He said Kuwait, the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, the south of Iraq and west Iran are being hit the hardest.

More southerly parts of the Gulf have been feeling the heat too. An official at Bahrain's ministry of health said Salami Medical Complex's accident and emergency department has admitted between five and 15 cases of heat exhaustion every day since last week. "Normally, we'd have one to two cases every day. Bahrain is overheated and the humidity is very high," the official said. Majeed Isa, the assistant undersecretary for meteorology at Bahrain Meteorology Service, said the monsoon low-pressure system in northern India and Pakistan normally results in the shamal wind blowing from the north-west, "keeping the area comfortable". This year, the pressure system is weak and the direction of the wind is reversed, he said, forecasting that it would revert to normal by next week.

Bahrain's meteorology department measures apparent temperature, which takes humidity and wind chill into account. Mr Isa said the country's apparent temperature is usually below 40˚C in June, but it has hovered above 50˚C for the past few days. Dammam, on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, was forecast to be the hottest part of its country yesterday with a maximum temperature of 48˚C, according to Saudi's presidency of meteorology and environment web site. The forecaster on duty at Dubai International Airport said the maximum temperatures of up to 45˚C that were recorded yesterday were "quite common", but the minimum temperature of 35.9˚C that was recorded at 6am was the highest on record. The heat wave has put intense pressure on the Gulf's electricity networks as residents crank up their air conditioners for relief. Kuwait's power consumption peaked at 10,921 megawatts on Tuesday, close to the network's maximum capacity of around 11,200MW. If demand outstripped supply, the national control centre would begin cutting off sections of the city.

To avoid such a scenario, the government announced a raft of austerity measures such as closing schools early. Parliamentarians are furious that their wealthy country is in danger of failing to supply one of its citizens' basic needs and will discuss the crisis during a special session on Sunday. A local newspaper, The Kuwait Times, reported on Wednesday that "informed sources" said the ministry of electricity and water asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain to supply extra capacity through the GCC electricity grid. The sources said Kuwait has so far failed to secure more power because the other states are concerned with their own energy needs. The ministry was unavailable for comment, but Ahmed Ebrahim, the director of systems operation and maintenance at the GCC Interconnection Authority, denied that Kuwait had asked for more power as a result of the current crisis.

"We've heard from the news that their margins are small. If they see that they have a small margin, we encourage them to negotiate with other states," Mr Ebrahim said. The increased load has put Kuwait's electricity distribution network under intense strain. The fire department chief, Brig Gen Jassem al Mansouri, said yesterday that firemen have put out fires at 12 electricity transformers in June. He said: "High temperatures lead to high consumption which causes a high load, but this is not a good excuse. This figure is too high." Ali al Nahyo, an assistant engineer at Kuwait Gulf Oil Company, was evacuated from his villa beside a substation that burst into flames in Al Salam on Tuesday. "The newly built areas are having the same problem because the transformers have been built on the cheap," Mr Nahyo claimed. "It happens so often that Kuwaitis are used to it. Some people leave their houses and rent a villa and others get in their cars and drive around with the air conditioning on." @Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae With additional reporting by Vesela Todorova in Abu Dhabi