No Time for Power Naps

Technology and Energy Management

Technological changes have spurred communication between private industrial players and the public sector around energy management to maintain competitiveness and create benefits for the whole economy.

With technology transforming how we live and work, infrastructure investment is a must for any modern economy. And as 3D printing in the UAE gains traction and new manufacturers seek to set up shop near busy trade routes, there is mounting pressure for general partners raising investment funds or direct infrastructure investors, such as pension plans and sovereign-wealth funds, to remain ahead of the direct impact these technological changes will bring to the industrial segment of Abu Dhabi.

New digital tools are emerging, including 3D-mapping applications, virtual reality, and real-time performance dashboards that seek to fully exploit the benefits of predictive data. Moreover, an ever-growing number of Abu Dhabi’s industrial players are stepping up their use of advanced analytics to improve system performance and boost productivity, making it easier to stick to the original budget and time lines for capital projects.

These tectonic technologic shifts come at a time when many new investors are entering the infrastructure market, increasing competition for assets. Simultaneously, the industrial sector of Abu Dhabi is pushing for reforms in the energy field to preserve competitiveness. As such, most of the talks around the use of technology in the Emirate’s industrial sector revolve around power management, whether that comes through the integration of new assets in existing processes or increasing efficiencies to preserve competitiveness despite increasing competition from the East. In line with the energy strategy announced in 2017, which seeks to reduce carbon footprint of power generation by 70% by 2050, the top-30 private players have opened up a direct channel with the government to raise awareness of the various gaps around the economic ecosystem. The special focuses of these discussions are water usage, cost of power, and oil.

With regards to water, conversation is more straightforward and aims at connecting the dots, making sure industrial water waste is re-used. As for power, electricity prices in Abu Dhabi are still lower than those in Dubai, in 2018 they have gone up to AED0.286/kWh for industrial players with an installed capacity below 1MW and AED0.27/kWh for those above 1MW. However, the issues around the cost of oil and water usage are different in nature. Further increases in fixed costs risk reducing considerably the generated added value of each factory, as margins become tighter and local players face competition from Asian and, more recently, Omani players.

For oil, industry players seek to advance the idea that oil should not be factored in as energy, but as an ingredient in the industrial process. Just like European countries rich in water are facilitated in their usage of water for industrial purposes, players in Abu Dhabi are calling for a similar approach for oil.
There is still a huge opportunity on the manufacturing side, especially in energy-intensive industries, chemicals, paper, and packaging. Demand for oil will increase over the short to medium term, and lower prices may allow the Emirate to implement a very-much-needed technological localization strategy. Given the pace technology is evolving, as stated by Ittihad International Investment’s CEO, suppliers and maintenance factories need to be close by to make sure Abu Dhabi’s technology never becomes outdated.

If properly addressed, these energy points can lead to widespread savings for multiple stakeholders, even outside the industry segment. As such, a new investment strategy in Abu Dhabi’s industrial sector should shy away from the regulated core assets such as water utilities or power generation and look into noncore assets with higher barriers to entry, in the form of capital intensive, long contracts, and very robust client needs at specific physical-access points. Perhaps faster than expected, the Emirate’s industrial landscape is moving towards high-capex, streamlined portfolio strategies that seek to ensure long-term sustainability of local economy and predictable cash flows for many years to come.