Construction Week Newsletter 18th June 2005

DEWA's line on Dubai's blackout was that it was a network-related problem, rather than capacity-related. But why did an isolated incident have such a widespread effect?

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By  Sean Cronin Published  June 18, 2005

The day Dubai went dark |~||~||~|Looking back on the great Dubai ‘blackout’ of 9th June, it’s hard not to be reminded of that classic disaster spoof movie of the Eighties, ‘Airplane!’ Like the passengers who remained perfectly calm when told that their aircraft could crash, but went into a frenzied panic when the stewardess announced that they’d run out of coffee, we have all received the news that peak power consumption may be moving dangerously close to current supply capacity, in a rather stoic fashion. That hospitals, air traffic control and the entire traffic management system could be threatened by the power outage is news we can all handle. But feeling mildly clammy is another matter entirely. Without wanting to make a drama out of a crisis, it’s important that a thorough investigation into the power cut is undertaken by DEWA and I’m confident that this is already happening. It’s also important that the findings of that investigation are made public — and not just for the sake of transparency. Consumer and investor confidence can be a fickle thing, so it’s important that confidence is fully restored to ensure that the illuminated sign of Dubai Plc does not flicker even for a moment. The key questions seem to be is there enough buffer between installed capacity in the UAE network and peak load for the system to cope with the massive growth in consumption, caused largely by new residential and industrial construction? Is the distribution network able to utilise sufficient spinning capacity (the difference between installed capacity and peak load) in case of emergencies? Will the pace of development we are currently witnessing in Dubai need to slow down if power generation capacity is to be able to catch up? And finally, will the completion of the Emirates National Grid Project prevent a re-run of last week’s extended blackout? These are not just questions for DEWA and Dubai. Power consumption is on the increase throughout the region. In some countries such as Qatar, the gap between installed capacity and peak load is narrowing fast. So there will be lesons to be learned for the entire region. So far, the line from DEWA seems to be that an Emirates-wide grid would not have helped the situation because the problem was network-related rather than capacity-related. If that is the case, then the question may be why did an isolated incident that occurred somewhere within the Dubai grid, have such a widespread effect? Surely the public needs to know. As Leslie Nielsen might have said, “Yes, but please don’t call me Shirley.”||**||

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