Did cascade chain reaction cause the Dubai blackout?

Swedepower is drafted in by DEWA to conduct investigation into power failure.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  June 18, 2005

The investigation into why Dubai was plunged into darkness last week will focus on whether a short-term power surge led to a chain reaction that tripped off sub-stations around the emirate one by one. The probe is likely to focus on the transmission system around the Jebel Ali area, where almost all of the emirate’s current generating capacity is concentrated. It was this type of problem that was behind the catastrophic failure of the power grid on the US Eastern seaboard on 14th August, 2003, which was the largest blackout in American history. A source close to DEWA said: “What happens is that when there is a surge in power, the other generators pick up the load and try to match it. “But sometimes they over-compensate and start spinning too fast — then the sub stations trip off one by one in a cascade or chain reaction.” In the absence of a grid to pick up extra capacity where needed, countries usually have what is called ‘spinning reserve or capacity’. This is where a steam turbine is kept running at no load waiting for a signal to start generating power. That signal comes when there is a power surge, sometimes caused by a power station being taken offline for routine maintenance work. It is understood that maintenance work was being carried out at one of the Jebel Ali power plants when last week’s failure occurred. Utilities company DEWA has drafted in power consultant Swedepower to conduct an investigation into the 9th June blackout and find out exactly what went wrong. Last week’s blackout has raised several questions about power capacity within the UAE, and whether the frenetic pace of construction capacity threatens to stretch the system to breaking point. A senior DEWA engineer, who did not want to be named, said that an Emirates-wide grid would not have helped Dubai avoid last week’s blackout because it is believed to have been caused by a transmission-related issue, rather than a capacity problem. Power consumption has been increasing rapidly in the UAE over recent years, largely as a result of the construction boom and expansion of industrial facilities around the country. There is around 12.8MW of installed generating power in the UAE, with an extra 6.6MW of energy expected to come on line by 2010. Consumption has been increasing at a rate of 6.7% a year, which is thought to be higher than any other GCC country, with the exception of Qatar. However, the rate of consumption in Dubai is expected to show its biggest increase yet this year of up to 13%, according to DEWA insiders. This is when the system will hit peak consumption during the months of July and August.

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