Natural gas to play major role in global power generation, GE executive says

Share of renewables in global electricity generation recorded slight rise in 2021

Otmane Benamar speaks at a Middle East Energy event at the World Trade Centre in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Natural gas will continue to play a major role in electricity generation amid rising renewable energy adoption, a top executive from General Electric said on Tuesday.

“Gas power would still play a major role in addressing the demand, but also enable more penetration of renewables,” Otmane Benamar, chief technology officer at GE Gas Power EMEA, said at the Middle East Energy event in Dubai.

“Because while we are [increasing the share of renewables], we're bringing intermittency into the [electricity] grid, so we need to make sure that we have stable and dispatchable generation to address it,” said Mr Benamar.

The share of renewables in global electricity generation rose marginally to 28.7 per cent in 2021, the International Energy Agency reported.

Middle East countries, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have been investing heavily in new renewable energy projects as they work to direct their economies away from crude oil exports.

As of 2021, solar power accounted for 97 per cent of installed renewables capacity in Gulf Co-operation Council countries, the International Renewable Energy Agency said.

Europe, which is looking to reduce its reliance on Russian gas exports, has been entering long-term liquefied natural gas agreements with the US and Gulf countries.

“There are billions of dollars in assets that are there, and we will not just throw everything and put renewables — that’s not how it works,” said Mr Benamar.

“We need to do this transition while maintaining the reliability of power and the affordability of power.”

Oil and gas accounts for almost 95 per cent of electricity generation in the Middle East and North Africa, an International Energy Agency report from last year showed.

Thermal plants in the region consume more than 290 billion cubic metres of gas, or more than one third of its gas production, and 1.75 million barrels a day of oil, the agency said.

“We need to make sure that we start today by doing upgrades on the existing [infrastructure], which reduce the carbon-dioxide emissions and … makes sure that we can cope with the variation that is being brought about by renewables,” said Mr Benamar.

Panellists also spoke about the role of consumers in power generation.

“How do we incentivise people to draw from the grid at timings that are appropriate for the operator?” said Abhay Bhargava, vice president of consulting at Frost & Sullivan.

“It's about putting in place the right kind of incentives [and] tariffs that ensure that you can shape the demand [and] bring in some level of sanity to what's going to happen,” said Mr Bhargava.

Some countries in the Middle East such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria frequently experience severe power cuts and rolling blackouts.

Iraq’s electricity network losses are among the highest in the world. As per the Iraq Energy Institute, about 30 per cent to 50 per cent of electricity generated is lost due to an inadequate transmission and distribution network.

Updated: March 07, 2023, 3:25 PM