ABU DHABI - Energy security has rapidly become the number one priority for nations around the world in light of current geopolitical issues leading to rapidly escalating energy prices. These rises, coupled with spiralling inflation, are adding pressure to many national energy systems around the world and the knock-on impact for consumers cost of living is clear.
However, it is critical that we don’t lose sight of our longer-term challenge: climate change. The dangers of climate change are plain to see in numerous reports, and we know we have a finite window, until 2030, to make the bold moves we need to set us on a course for Net Zero by 2050, and a 1.5 degree global temperature increase. The question now is, how to keep on track with climate goals while achieving energy security in the interim?
The UAE has made a significant leap in supporting the economic growth and resolving both challenges through the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (ENEC) Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi. The Plant currently has two commercially operating nuclear reactors, each generating up to 1,400 MW of zero-carbon electricity 24/7 all year around. Barakah is one of the largest nuclear energy plants in the world in terms of installed capacity, with four APR-1400 Units capable of generating up to 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity once fully operational, and so not only does it bolster the UAE’s national energy security as a source of in-country continuous electricity, but it does so without generating any carbon emissions, making it an optimal solution.
Indeed, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified several pathways to limit global warming to 1.5 C in the coming decades and sees nuclear generation as playing an important role in decarbonising the energy sector. It expects that by mid-century, the majority of primary energy will come from renewables and nuclear energy in most scenarios. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that to achieve Net Zero by 2050, the world needs to double existing nuclear energy capacity from about 400 GW to more than 800 GW2.
Being clean isn’t the only benefit. The latest data shows that the UAE’s electricity demand peaks at more than 15,000 MW 3 and the four Units at Barakah can generate up to 5,600 MW of clean electricity around the clock, equivalent to almost 40 percent of this demand. With two units already operating at maximum capacity today, the UAE is making significant headway in meeting peak demand with clean, abundant electricity from the nuclear plant, current the largest single source of clean electricity in the Arab region today.
The Barakah Plant is accelerating UAE’s path towards Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative through the rapid decarbonisation of the power sector. A proven solution to climate change, the Plant is providing abundant and reliable clean electricity to power homes and businesses across the nation. Once fully operational, the four Units will produce up to 5,600 MW of clean electricity and prevent 22.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, while bridging to other clean energy technologies, such as clean hydrogen.
This clean electricity generation is particularly important in this region, where temperature degrees regularly rise to around 40 Celsius in the summer, when air conditioning usage, and the demand for water desalination, peak to ensure people remain cool, and water is available for personal usage, irrigation, etc.
The UAE recognised the need for plentiful clean electricity back in 2008, and the UAE has remained committed since then in the development of its nuclear energy program. Fast forward to today and the benefits of nuclear energy are clear. In a recent milestone, Unit 1 completed a full year of commercial operations that began in April 2021 and has generated more than 10.5 Terawatt hours of clean electricity. Unit 2 achieved commercial operations on 24 March 2022, less than a year after Unit 1, to double the benefits nuclear energy brings to the nation. This will be increased further with the expected start of the operations process at Unit 3 in 2022.
Following a year of successful operations, Unit 1 underwent a successful refuelling and maintenance outage – a scheduled activity that takes place every 12 months or so. The process involved shutting down the reactor, implementing more than 8,000 planned maintenance activities, and replacing about a third of the fuel assembles in the reactor core, with the remaining fuel re-configured for optimal operations. Unit 1 has now restarted and powered back up to run at full power for another year with zero carbon emissions. Unit 2 continued to operate normally throughout this time, delivering clean electricity to the nation.
The teams at Barakah have completed the Unit 3 Fuel Load, after the receipt of the Operating License from the UAE’s independent nuclear Regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation ( FANR), which will authorise ENEC’s operating and maintenance subsidiary Nawah Energy Company to commence operation phase of the Unit for the next 60 years. Following the completion of the fuel load, the operations team will begin preparations for Start-up of Unit 3, utilising the lessons learned from the same process on Unit 1 in 2020 and Unit 2 in 2021. Meanwhile, the major construction activities are completed at Unit 4.
By 2030, the Barakah Plant will contribute 25 percent of the UAE’s international commitments for emissions reductions making it an essential component of the nation’s Net Zero by 2050 strategy.