Dubai develops renewable-powered digital utility

Dubai will soon be home to an innovative automated digital utility utilising renewable energy.
Published: Thu 12 Apr 2018

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has put forward a project to create a digital, artificial intelligence-powered utility.

The 'Digital DEWA' project is set to transform the traditional business model of a public utility, according to the company. It will be an autonomously operating utility, offering digital services run by artificial intelligence (AI).The utility is intended to present cutting-edge innovation in digitisation, renewable energy, energy storage and AI.

The project was presented as a part of the Dubai 10X initiative, which was put forward by the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) to explore available technologies in order to create new business models with the potential to replace traditional ones. Dubai 10X aims to set the city 10 years ahead of any other city in the world in terms of technological innovations.

Renewables, storage, AI and digital

The digital utility is proposed to comprise four ‘pillars’ that will operate together: renewable energy, energy storage, autonomous services and AI and digital.

The first pillar, renewable energy, will seek to develop and improve solar power technology for Dubai. The end goal, set in the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, is to have 75% of Dubai's total energy demand coming from clean energy by 2050, with a 24-hour solar-powered utility that can provide water and electricity.  

According to HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, DEWA’s Managing Director and CEO, one of the most important projects is the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, with a planned capacity of 5,000MW by 2030 at a total investment of AED50bn (approximately US$13bn). Upon completion, the solar park will help reduce over 6.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

"Our current photovoltaic and concentrated solar power (CSP) Independent Power Producer-based projects’ capacity will exceed 1,700MW. We will have an additional 3,300MW, to reach 5,000 MW by 2030.”

Coupled with renewable energy usage is Digital DEWA's energy storage pillar, which will propose a large-scale integrated energy storage solution for utility and residential usage. "In order to integrate this large share of renewables and storage, and to ensure maximum efficiency and reliability of operations, we will use advanced machine learning,” said Al Tayer.

The energy storage pillar will be composed of five initiatives. These include a pumped storage hydropower plant with a power capacity of 250MW and energy capacity of 2.5GWh. Additionally, DEWA will develop a 1GW/10GWh capacity CSP facility with thermal storage for 24-hour energy.

Research and development (R&D) is also featured, with a new research facility (the Smart Grid Integration Lab) to test and develop different energy storage solutions that will best suit the region's needs, and to research how to better integrate storage with renewable energy generation.

The third pillar, which concerns autonomous services and AI, is aimed to put Dubai at the forefront of autonomous utility customer services. The utility will utilise AI and machine learning to improve customer services and experiences, support employee services and improve productivity as well as to optimise core grid operations

"The third pillar will expand on AI solutions to make Dubai the first city to provide AI-based on electricity and water services," said Al Tayer. Individual initiatives will focus on AI for customers and employees and AI-powered systems. As part of this programme, the company has developed a chatbot to be available to customers, dubbed Rammas. In addition to Amazon’s Alexa, Rammas will be available on other platforms, such as Google Assistant and Facebook.

Lastly, the fourth pillar, Digital - also known as the Data Hub - will launch a platform that will offer colocation, cloud computing and managed business services. The Data Hub will offer one-stop-shop services and solutions and enhanced customer experience.

"DEWA will launch a futuristic digital platform, a data hub named MORO, to improve the UAE’s digital capabilities to develop smart cities, provide state-of-the-art innovative solutions, and a successful model for Dubai and the world to benefit from our innovative approach," said Al Tayer.

Reimagining utility business models

‘Digital DEWA’ is the latest in a string of innovations developed by DEWA as the city seeks to position itself at the forefront of technology and is claimed as a first of its kind.

“Continuing on our innovation-focused approach, DEWA is looking to build the world’s first autonomous renewable-energy digital utility, establishing it as a groundbreaking world-class project from Dubai,” said Al Tayer.

In November 2017, Engerati reported that Dubai is leading the way in blockchain innovation by launching the Dubai Blockchain Strategy. Its goal is for Dubai to have the first blockchain-powered government system, which could potentially save the city billions of dollars in activities such as document processing.

DEWA has two blockchain initiatives under way, one at a city-level for the delivery of Dubai’s electricity and water services, and the other for EV charging services as part of the ‘EV Green Charger’ charging infrastructure development initiative.

Still in November 2017, DEWA announced its adoption of robotics technology paired with AI to deliver improved customer services. For this end, the utility announced the employment of robots as members of staff as well as the launch of the chatbot Rammas.

Dubai is also a frontrunner in smart city projects. DEWA and the Dubai government have launched the Smart Dubai initiative, focused on making it become the world’s leading smart city by 2021. Strategies involved in this project include encouraging citizens to install solar PV panels, the EV Green Charger project and the Smart Applications via Smart Grid and Meters initiative. The latter is focused on a nationwide rollout of smart electricity, smart water meters and smart grid technology, established via an Internet of Things (IoT) mesh canopy.