A quick aerial view of the state of Kuwait brings one of the country’s most pressing challenges into sharp focus – meeting the water needs of a growing population in a landscape dominated by desert sands. In a recent study, the World Resources Institute ranked Kuwait among the top ten countries globally that are likely to face extremely high water stress by 2040. With average annual precipitation of just 121mm per year and no permanent rivers or lakes, it is no surprise that more than 90% of water for domestic and industrial needs and up to 60% of total water supply in Kuwait is currently met through seawater desalination plants. These desalination plants are energy-intensive. To keep them running and meet the growing demand for electricity across the country, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity and Water plans to significantly increase generation capacity in the decades to come.
The Az Zour North Phase 1 Independent Water and Power Plant (IWPP) in southern Kuwait, approximately 100km from central Kuwait City, is one of the most important projects set up to secure Kuwait’s water and energy future. Launched in 2013, the landmark facility was the first public-private partnership (PPP) in Kuwait, with the government’s share at 60% and the remaining 40% owned by a consortium of private owners: France’s ENGIE (17.5%), Japan’s Sumimoto Corporation (17.5%) and Kuwait’s AH Al Sagar & Brothers (5%). With construction completed in December 2015, the desalination plant has a production capacity of up to 107 million gallons a day (MGD) of desalinated water. It comprises 10 multiple effect distillers (MED) and a potabilisation plant to provide drinking water. It accounts for up to 20% of Kuwait’s desalination capacity, making it the largest desalination facility in the country. The power behind the desalination process is provided through a 1.5GW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant which can generate up to up to 10% of the country’s energy capacity. The power plant is equipped with five GE 9FA gas turbines, two GE steam turbines and five heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs). The plant both feeds electricity into the national grid and helps generate steam for the desalination process. Operations and maintenance services at Az Zour North are carried out by the Az Zour North Operations and Maintenance (AZN O&M) Company, a joint venture between ENGIE and Sumitomo. GE Power provided technical instruction during equipment installation and has a multi-year agreement to provide maintenance and repairs services for the gas and steam turbines at the power plant until 2034.
Forging ahead with a project as unique as the Az Zour North IWPP posed several technical challenges, some very region-specific. For example, in the Middle East the reliability of operations and efficiency are very important. That is quite different from Europe, where the focus for gas turbines is often preservation, low-load operations and cycling. There were also very specific requirements in Kuwait to be able to run for extended periods of time on liquid fuel instead of gas, which can lead to issues such as fuel leaks and coking. Maximising the reliability of gas turbines in a harsh desert environment is not easy, but is of utmost importance for the stability of the grid. Remaining on schedule with the construction and delivery of a project of this size – the largest desalination plant in Kuwait – was equally challenging. According to Adel Masaad, Gulf & Pakistan leader for GE’s Power Services business: “The main challenge was that the first gas turbine was contractually required to be in commercial operation a little over 18 months after signing the EPC contract, followed by the second and third shortly after. This required extensive work to get the civil, mechanical and electrical infrastructure and balance of the plant to be ready to support commissioning of the first gas turbine.” The logistics of having all the required equipment delivered on time was also critical to the success of the project. “Despite the tight deadlines, the first gas turbine and generator were placed on foundations in July 2014, eight months after contract signature,” says Masaad. “Subsequent deliveries were well ahead of requirements, meaning that critical project milestones were achieved and Phase 1 of the North plant began operating at full capacity within two years of the project’s launch.”
In an effort to continuously improve operations, AZN O&M and GE have now started to explore means to further strengthen the reliability and performance of assets at the Az Zour North facility. With GE successfully completing the digital transformation of Kuwait Ministry of Electricity & Water’s Sabiya CCGT power station earlier this year, GE and AZN O&M are together exploring the possibility of adopting new digital technologies at Az Zour North to further strengthen resource utilisation and productivity at the site. These digital solutions can give industrial businesses a complete, integrated view of assets and equipment. Connected machines equipped with data sensors can collect vast amounts of information into a centralised and secured data platform. The analysis of this data can provide insights to predict and diagnose equipment problems before they happen, reducing unplanned downtime. The success of the PPP model employed with the Az Zour North Phase 1 IWPP has also set a precedent for future growth paths in Kuwait’s utilities sector. Under the 2035 development plan, the Kuwaiti government has announced plans to boost foreign direct investment through public-private partnerships, adopting a more synergistic approach to driving long-term economic growth and diversification.