UAE nuclear plants could eliminate most oil burnt for power

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Oil production at Sharjah's Mubarek field, a medium-sized Gulf oilfield - Jeff Topping/The National

It is hardly news that the UAE burns oil to produce part of its power supply, but the amount of oil used to generate electricity may surprise.

According to

(BMI), the British business intelligence and risk analysis firm,

, with natural gas fuelling the rest.

BMI also reports that the UAE's thermal power generation, which currently accounts for almost all of its electricity production, reached 77.2twh last year. With no appreciable economic growth, that was probably about the same this year.

That means roughly 23.5twh of the UAE's electricity supply was produced this year by burning oil.

The amount of oil required to produce that amount of electricity in a modern power plant would be 5.35 million tonnes, according to the

- equivalent to 107,000 barrels per day (bpd) or the output of a medium-sized Gulf oil field.

Much of that oil was probably expensive imported diesel.

We seldom think of the UAE as importing oil. Yet the

, which keeps tabs on such things, reports that the Gulf nation's oil imports reached 192,900 bpd in 2007.

That, coincidentally, is just a little less than the 200,000 bpd of oil that would have to be burnt to generate

, or roughly the future annual output of the four nuclear reactors that the UAE plans to install by 2020.

By 2020, of course, the UAE's electricity consumption may well have doubled if the nation continues to expand its industrial base. By a conservative estimate, its need for oil as power-plant fuel would also double - to slightly more than 200,000 bpd - without a strategic shift in domestic energy policy.

It appears, then, that the UAE's nuclear programme, which represents just such a shift, is right-sized to eliminate most of the country's requirement for oil in its domestic power sector. That should leave its residents breathing easier.