Region turns into battery storage hotspot

15 September 2023

Commentary
Jennifer Aguinaldo
Energy & technology editor

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Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Global awarded the multi-utility contract for Amaala this week. In addition to a 250MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant, the contract includes renewable energy-powered water desalination and wastewater treatment plants to cater to the development.

For some, the most eye-catching part of the deal is the 700 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery energy storage system (bess) that will enable the utility infrastructure to be completely off-grid.

It is only the second project of its kind in the region, following the Red Sea Project, which in 2020-21 included a 1,300MWh battery energy storage system in its multi-utility infrastructure, the world’s largest at the time of construction.

The engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the Red Sea multi-utility package, China’s Sepco 3, appointed fellow Chinese firm Huawei Digital Power as a sub-contractor for the battery energy storage system.

Eve Battery, a Huizhou-headquartered lithium battery manufacturer, and BYD Energy Storage, also of China, provided the project’s battery solutions.

Fast forward to 2023, Abu Dhabi state utility Emirates Water & Electricity Company (Ewec) appears to have started the procurement process for two 200MW battery energy storage facilities.

The first will be located near the existing solar PV farm in Sweihan, and the second in Madinat Zayed.

Oman, which does not plan to procure any additional gas-fired capacity, also intends to develop battery energy storage facilities to address the intermittency of its renewable energy resources.

While the Red Sea project demonstrates the China-centric nature of the battery energy storage supply chain, recent moves show that the region can potentially play a major role in developing lithium and battery storage solutions.

Australia-headquartered battery company EV Metals Group (EVM) is developing an integrated battery chemicals complex at Yanbu Industrial City in Saudi Arabia, which is expected to house a lithium chemicals plant, with a scope to include a nickel chemicals plant and a cathode active materials plant. The estimated cost for phase one of the lithium chemicals plant is $1.3bn.

EVM is understood to have signed an agreement with the Royal Commission for Jubail & Yanbu (RCJY) for the allocation of 127 hectares of land, and with Saudi Arabia’s Energy Ministry for gas and power allocation.

According to EVM, the project is “strategically located to become a global hub for the midstream processing of critical raw materials required to foster a clean energy future”.

In July, China’s Guangzhou Tinci Materials Technology disclosed plans to build a lithium-ion battery materials plant in Morocco.

The firm’s Singapore unit intends to invest as much as $280m to set up a project company in the North African country to produce lithium-ion battery materials locally, which it will then export to Europe. Morocco’s ample phosphorite ore resources underpin Tinci’s plans.

The same month, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) signed an agreement with US-based Ivanhoe Electric to undertake exploration of the Arabian Shield zone in Saudi Arabia for high-demand minerals.

The partners will survey an area of 48,500 square kilometres in the Arabian Shield as part of the $130m deal. The Arabian Shield region – roughly the size of Switzerland – is understood to be rich in reserves of critical minerals such as copper, nickel, gold, silver and possibly lithium.

While it is still early days for these projects, they show the growing potential, and aspiration, of the region not only to deploy clean energy technologies but to produce them as well, which bodes well for dwindling hydrocarbon demand over the long term as energy transition takes hold.

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Jennifer Aguinaldo
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