The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), a public service infrastructure company for electricity and water, is constantly upgrading its strategies to transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world. In order to realise this objective, it is crucial for DEWA to develop a smart grid equipped with advanced features that facilitate automated decision-making and interoperability across the electricity and water networks. Notably, DEWA is on track to reach its objective and has already met 100 per cent of the short-term goals under its Smart Grid Strategy 2014–2035. As part of these short-term goals, DEWA recorded significant achievements between 2015 and 2020. The utility was able to achieve complete automation of its transmission network connected to the 400 kV and 132 kV substations. In addition, it replaced electricity and water meters with over 2 million smart meters with automatic reading features that allow two-way communication between the utility and the customers, helping them to effectively manage their electricity and water usage. Further, it expanded a multi-application RF mesh network across Dubai to provide communication to about 4,200 distribution substations as well as to power other smart grid applications.

Having delivered on these short-term goals, DEWA recently updated the smart grid strategy to move ahead with the medium- and long-term objectives under the latest Smart Grid Strategy 2021-2035, which envisages investments to the tune of AED7 billion. The updated smart grid strategy focuses on six key themes – foundational capabilities; grid automation; smart energy solutions and green mobility; smart water; smart grid artificial intelligence; and innovative value-added services, which together comprise 19 smart grid capabilities. The new plan also supports the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and the Dubai Net Zero Emissions Strategy 2050 to provide 100 per cent of the energy production capacity from clean energy sources by 2050.

This article takes a look at DEWA’s latest smart grid strategy and its key components/themes with insights from its Smart Grid Report 2022.

Foundational capabilities 

Foundational capabilities refer to the key enabling infrastructure that forms the technical backbone of the smart grid. These include advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for electricity and water, telecommunications, and the allied IT infrastructure. These capabilities will help keep DEWA’s customer data safe through the implementation of cutting-edge cybersecurity procedures throughout the organisation.

AMI in particular is a prerequisite for implementing smart grids. AMI infrastructure includes end-to-end security, a head-end system, a meter data management system, and integration with DEWA’s billing system. As of December 2021, DEWA deployed around 1.06 million smart electricity meters and 0.96 million smart water meters across Dubai, leading to 100 per cent smart metering coverage.

IT infrastructure is the core component of all projects under DEWA’s smart grid themes. This capability offers specialised, cutting-edge enterprise architecture for the storage of business data as well as a platform for applications to execute the smart grid programmes with seamless interoperability. DEWA has already set up a TIER-III+ certified data centre with a high availability and fail-over construction.

The communication network is another foundational capability that provides a critical connectivity link for information needed to carry out essential activities. DEWA strives to improve and maintain its communications infrastructure to ensure confidentiality, integrity, authentication and authorisation. DEWA plans to use communication technologies for a range of applications including transmission line patrolling; monitoring and pre-fault detection in secondary substations; distribution network visibility and fault detection; monitoring of solar power plants; solar forecasting for improved transmission operation planning; and improved power planning of generation and transmission.

Another foundation capability, enterprise integration architecture, is required for integrating data, transactions and events across smart grid systems, corporate back-off systems, and operation technology (OT) systems. In order to implement the smart grid integration architecture and enable seamless data interchange between various applications, DEWA has created an enterprise service bus integration platform as part of this capability. It further plans to integrate its current and future business and operations systems using service buses on a service orientated architecture, which will enable smart grid applications to exchange and synchronise data in a system-independent way.

Last but not the least is security. This foundational capability preserves the confidentiality, integrity and availability of assets across all IT and OT systems. Based on security governance, data privacy and management, identity and access management, cryptography and security operations, it offers security standards, assurance and implementation support for the entire smart grid programme.

Grid automation 

The automation of transmission and distribution grids as well as asset management practices is another prerequisite for a smart grid. Grid automation is achieved by the use of sophisticated sensors, intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), controls and software, and aims to make the power grid more resilient, efficient and secure, especially in the wake of increasing renewables and distributed energy resources. Within grid automation, DEWA will focus specifically on transmission automation, distribution automation, asset management, and renewables, dispatch and forecasting.

Transmission automation aims at providing advanced transmission automation and control at substations at voltage levels of 132 kV and above. It is carried out through the implementation of substation automation, digital substations, wide area monitoring systems (WAMS) with the deployment of phasor measurement units (PMUs), and artificial intelligence. Transmission automation is also essential for integrating supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems with automated distribution substations to improve the reliability and security of the entire power system by providing better substation control and monitoring capabilities compliant with cybersecurity needs. In a step towards transmission automation and digitisation, DEWA has implemented 132 kV digital substations equipped with IEDs and based on the IEC61850-9-2 process bus digital communication protocol. Furthermore, SCADA has been expanded to improve integration with utility-scale renewables and DERs.

Distribution automation involves the deployment of technologies to keep a check on and control DEWA’s electric distribution system infrastructure at low to medium voltages. Distribution automation also aims to improve customer satisfaction, reliability, optimisation and efficiency, as well as asset utilisation and workforce productivity. Presently, DEWA monitors and controls its 33 kV, 11 kV and 6.6 kV primary and secondary substations using SCADA. To upgrade SCADA and automated distribution management system (ADMS) for its control centres, DEWA has implemented a fault location isolation and service restoration (FLISR) system. FLISR entails the replacement of ring main units (RMU) with smart RMUs for centralised and decentralised self-healing functionalities as well as outage management, transformer load management, switching procedure management, optimal network reconfiguration, voltage variance control and optimisation, power quality monitoring and analysis, among others.

Asset management entails the use of data analytics for preventive and proactive maintenance of DEWA’s transmission, distribution and water assets to optimise their life cycle. Notably, DEWA is developing an asset health centre that will collect and analyse data from existing assets and systems to quantify the health and risk of failure of these assets based on specific end-of-life indicators and their associated use cases. This will help DEWA reduce outages while increasing the expected life of its assets. DEWA also plans to use an asset performance management solution that supports a variety of use cases to improve its asset health centre. Further, to automate maintenance practices, DEWA has completed a pilot for using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to inspect overhead lines.

Grid automation is also essential to enable near-autonomous dispatch and control of renewable energy sources. By the end of 2021, DEWA’s clean energy capacity increased to 11.38 per cent of Dubai’s total energy mix, equivalent to 1,527 MW. In contrast to traditional forecasting and dispatching regimes based on standalone or manual controls, this capability integrates DERs, sensor data, and the data from external information providers such as weather agencies. As greater amounts of clean energy and storage technologies are introduced into DEWAs network, grid integration of renewables will become increasingly important and complex. Going forward, DEWA plans to forecast loads and renewable energy generation output and integrate it with SCADA and distribution control centre technologies.

Smart energy solutions and green mobility

DEWA is actively assessing the viability of various storage solutions suited to Dubai’s weather conditions to provide stability to the power grid in the wake of growing renewables, which are intermittent and variable in nature. DEWA has implemented two pilot projects for energy storage systems, the first in the Middle Eastern region, at the AED50 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which will have a generation capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030. The pilot project is based on sodium sulphide, and lithium-ion batteries were employed in the second pilot project with a combined power capacity of 2.45 MW. The battery energy storage systems have proved useful in supporting the solar generation with several operation modes and ancillary services.

Also, with an increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on Dubai’s roads, the expansion of charging infrastructure and demand-supply management to avoid network congestion will be essential for grid stability. DEWA is expanding the number public charging spots supported by smart charging services under various initiatives. The utility’s EV charging stations have increased from 100 in 2015 to 325 at present.  Further, DEWA is aligned with the 10 per cent annual government procurement target for electric and hybrid vehicles by utilising 125 electric and hybrid vehicles in its own feet. This target will increase to 20 per cent starting from 2025 and to 30 per cent in 2030. The utility is also undertaking research and development on vehicle-to-grid technology, autonomous mobility, ultra-fast charging, mobile charging and inductive charging.

On the DER front, DEWA has launched programmes to encourage the public to set up rooftop solar plants and sell surplus power to the grid, implemented a solar power green hydrogen production facility in 2021, and set up a virtual power plant.

Other smart grid themes

DEWA is utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to derive internal and external data insights for providing greater value for wider commercial use and consumer delight. Internal data insights are generated from data streams produced by smart grid assets and services by leveraging technologies like big data and analytics to enhance DEWA’s internal processes, performance and customer experience. The utility is also able to utilise and monetise the data streams produced by its value-added services and smart grid by selling insights to new corporate customers. Further, DEWA is extensively utilising data management to remotely monitor operations, enhance system performance and enable a data-driven decision-making system for an effective, dependable, secure and autonomous water network.

Conclusion and the way forward

DEWA has taken significant strides on the smart grid front and plans to step up its technology game manyfold in the coming years. As a result of its smart grid and other technology initiatives, it has emerged as a leading utility in terms of system reliability. DEWA has been able to maintain transmission network availability at 100 per cent since 2018, at par with international standards. It recorded system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI) of 0.059 and achieved the lowest customer minutes loss (CML) worldwide at 1.43 minutes (in 2021) vis-à-vis 15 minutes reported by leading European utilities. Clearly, the utility’s focus on technology is paying off.

Going forward, DEWA anticipates investments worth AED10 billion in electricity transmission projects between 2021 and 2024, of which 80 per cent is for 132 kV projects and the rest for 400 kV projects.  Besides network strengthening and expansion, DEWA will continue its focus on smart grid to reach its vison of becoming a globally leading sustainable innovative corporation.