Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting Hotter in Kuwait

Kuwait_City_Liberation_Tower We recently lost our Internet connection and cable TV at home due to a fire that cindered some underground fiber. Since two of the things we do most at home for entertainment is prowl the Internet for picture of nuclear power plants and channel hop in a St. Vitus kind of way, this was a problem.

Generally speaking, we tend to take the presence of those things for granted, and sure, it’s certainly easy enough to do other things – talk to friends on the phone, do some writing and reading, make a more elaborate dinner. But then imagine that the grid overloads and pretty soon, you’re fleeing town for a nearby hotel with air conditioning and a pool.

But even when the electricity disappears, one can reasonably guess it’ll reappear soon enough. But what if electricity use soars to the extent that it necessitates brownouts or precipitates a blackout for a considerable length of time – and the temperature is 130 degrees – and there’s nowhere to go.

Meet Kuwait:

Kuwait is experiencing almost emergency conditions after power consumption hit an all-time high for the third day in a row at 10,921 megawatts at 2:30 pm, which is around 30 megawatts short of maximum production capacity. The record consumption was triggered by record temperatures that reached 51 degrees Celsius at Kuwait Airport, 50 degrees in Kuwait City and as high as 53 degrees at the Abdali border post with Iraq.

53 degrees Celsius is 127 degrees Fahrenheit. Kuwait has asked its neighbors for help:

However, the response received so far is discouraging," said the sources, noting that Saudi Arabia believed that its daily need of electricity is growing, which makes it impossible for it to spare any power and that Bahrain has insufficient production as well.

Qatar has some surplus electricity, but:

…so far it has not promised to provide Kuwait with any power as it needs it for major projects," added the sources, expressing hope that Qatar would at least agree to provide half the amount needed.

The situation argues for delay, Qatar. And course, Kuwait could appeal to its people to dial back all electricity use aside from air conditioning. And it does look like that’s happening:

According to [Ahmad Al-Jassar, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Electricity and Water], there won't be programmed power cuts and everyone must cooperate to save energy.

Programmed power cuts means that the government warns people in an area and then cuts the power there, something it really can’t do in the heat. However,a crisis may have been averted even without Qatar’s help and next year looks better:

"Kuwait will start benefiting from the contract that was signed with General Electronic and Hyundai to build the Subiya power plant next summer. On June 1, 2011 this plant will start operat
ing and will provide an additional 2,000 megawatts to the 11,100 megawatts produced daily. This will cover the power load next summer," {Al-Jassar] said.

Here’s a little information about Subiya (more at the link):

Stage one of the Subiya oil-fired power plant in Kuwait is complete. Eight 300MW boilers and turbines are now producing 2,400MW and up to 12 MIGD drinking water at the $2.2bn Subiya I plant. The 2000MW Subiya II will be gas fired, and should increase drinking water production to 96 MIGD. Bid submissions for the project should finally close in November 2008, after a number of delays.

The gas plant is what Al-Jassar is referring to, though that oil-fired plant must be quite the treat to be around when it’s working to full capacity, as it is now.

Needless to say, we could think of a better solution here, but the point that really needs making is that countries that really should enjoy enough electricity generation to avert disaster do not – note that the reason Kuwait can’t get electricity is that there’s none to spare among its neighbors – and the world that’s coming is going to be hotter. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe that will be hard to perpetually avert.

Kuwait City. That big building on the right is Liberation Tower, the 21st tallest free-standing building in the world, standing 1220 feet. It was built under the name The Kuwait Telecommunications Tower but became Liberation Tower when it was completed in 1993 to commemorate Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq in 1991.

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