Sunday, August 31, 2014

#Safety is trending in the power industry

How do you make one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world safer?

A popular saying goes: “Choose a job you love, and you never have to work a single day in your life”. There may be no denying that power plant engineers are just about the most passionate professionals one may find in any industry. They are fully aware that doing their jobs well has an encompassing growth effect, not only to a company or a group of companies, but to a whole city or even an entire country. But while they may truly love what they do, they literally put their lives at stake each and every day they go to work, as their jobs and workplace are classified among the most hazardous of all.

But, do power plant professionals really have to expose themselves in such life-threatening danger each day? The best energy organizations in the world think that the occupational hazards related to the power industry can be mitigated. They understand that keeping the workplace safe is not only the right thing to do for their employees, but is also the best way to optimize their operations.

According to industry experts, power plants and the energy industry as a whole have made notable improvements in terms of employee safety records in recent years. This can be largely ascribed to the presence of strict regulations and conformity schemes, and to what can be regarded as a paradigm shift in the way energy companies are introducing and implementing safety programs in their operations. Safety programs, for most companies, are being embedded in the culture of the entire organization, and this fact, they happily report, has been instrumental in making them more attractive and competitive in the marketplace.

Common hazards in power-related jobs
The above-mentioned observation of industry though-leaders is supported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA reports that there has been a consistent downward trend in the number of annual fatalities and injuries in the industry. OSHA cites that for electric power generation and distribution, natural gas distribution, and water sewage and other distribution companies, the number of annual fatalities has decreased from 73 in 2006 to 26 in 2009. The total percentage of injury and illness cases has also dropped during the same period from 4.1 cases per 100 workers to about 3.3.

In order to further promote workplace safety and hazard mitigation, the industry has zeroed in on three threats which it says have been responsible for the majority of the recorded injuries: Direct contact with electricity, fires & explosions of boiler equipment, and contact with hazardous chemicals.

Direct contact with electricity
Industry experts say that electrical shocks and burns account for numerous injuries and deaths in the power industry each year. Electricity-related injuries are largely attributed to electrocutions and burns from arc flashes. The number of electric shocks has been minimized in recent years, owing to the stricter drive of most companies towards having their workers wear proper safety protection. While industry experts still notice that in a few cases those who do not have to directly work in electrical cabinets are not yet required to wear any protection, many companies are now compelling their professionals to wear flame-resistant clothing, and are now conducting electrical hazard and awareness training more regularly.

Boiler fires and explosions
Even if most of the power plant equipment nowadays are infused with the latest technologies, boiler accidents in the power industry are still common, say thought-leaders. In order to prevent injuries in this regard, many power companies are now observed to be focusing on three key components of a boiler safety program: Operator training, maintenance & testing of safety devices, and upgrading of equipment as seen necessary. According to research, by concentrating on these areas, the risks ascribed to boiler fires and explosions can be reduced, and the losses related to production stoppage and property repairs can be virtually eradicated.

Contacts with hazardous chemicals
Exposure to dangerous chemicals is another major cause of injury to many workers in the energy industry every year. In order to promote the reduction of chemical-related injuries, OSHA has developed safety regulations in relation to hazardous chemicals. While OSHA’s safety regulations provide the guidelines, it has given energy companies the liberty to identify the chemical hazards that exist in their locations, what type of safety equipment should be utilized, how training should be conducted, and how equipment should be tested and maintained.

The importance of a safe workplace in the power industry
In a lot of occasions, giving premium to employee safety has been proven to bring about a higher morale and productivity in the workplace. Progressive organizations realize that the cost of a sound employee safety program can be justified by the productivity benefits that it provides. Costs related to employee injuries, death, attrition and production suspension are real and proven, and many companies in the power industry are now making inroads into preventing their catastrophic consequences, on their way to running a more profitable, sustainable and admired organization.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Have you ever heard electricity “sing”?

Yes, you read it right. Sing.

We consider electricity as something dangerous, something that has to be avoided at all cost, because it can cause life-threatening physical injuries, if not immediate death. Most of the time, we don’t even think of electricity at all. Electricity has become so ubiquitous that we often do not realize that it’s there until it is gone – during power outages and load shedding. But, have you ever stopped and imagined that electricity can also be entertaining and artistic? Have you ever thought that the “bzzzzzzz” that is usually used to denote the “sound” of electricity in shows and movies can be musical?

In technical terms, a human being can witness electricity “sing” through a “zeusaphone” or “thoramin”, a form of plasma speaker. This equipment is a variation of a solid state Tesla coil that has been engineered to produce musical tones by modulating its spark output. According to research, the resulting pitch is a low-fidelity square wave-like sound that calls to mind an analog synthesizer. How do humans hear the tone? The musical tone directly results from the passage of the spark through the air. Though some tones can be produced, this method of creating “music” may be limited, owing to the fact that the solid-state coil produces square rather than sinusoidal waves, but some people who have tried it say that producing simple chords were possible.

Though highly nerdy, the concept of a “zeusaphone” has made its way to popular culture. In Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, released in 2010, the hero named Dave (Jay Baruchel) demonstrated the workings of a singing Tesla coil to his crush, a girl called Becky (Teresa Palmer). In explaining how it was possible for electricity to sing, Dave said that the coils were firing at such a high frequency that the sparks literally created sound waves as they fly through the air.

A thoramin has also been already used in the concert scene. In a 2011 performance piece, titled Biophilia, performer Björk used the sound of a singing Tesla coil in the song, aptly called “Thunderbolt”.

Did you know? 
The term “zeusaphone” was coined by Dr Barry Gehm of Lyon College, in 2007. It is a play on the name of the “sousaphone”, giving tribute to the mythological Greek god of lighting, Zeus. “Thoramin”, on the other hand, was suggested by one Dan Butler-Ehle. The name was a play on the word “theremin”, including the name of Thor, the mythological Norsk god of thunder.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wordsmith: Where did “electricity” come from?

Did you know that there used to be a time when the term “electric” meant “attractive”? 

The term “electric” is said to have come from the Classical Latin word “electrum”, which meant “amber”. Why amber? Because amber, as observed by William Gilbert, has attractive properties. Hence, the New Latin declined term “electricus” – meaning “of amber” – was coined and was therefore used in his 1600 text, titled De Magnete.

The word “Electric” was first used in the English language by Sir Francis Bacon to describe materials like amber – meaning, those that have the capability to attract other objects. The first use of the word “electricity” is attributed to Sir Thomas Brown in his 1646 work, titled Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

Again, The concretion of Ice will not endure a dry attrition without liquation; for if it be rubbed long with a cloth, it melteth. But Crystal will calefie unto electricity; that is, a power to attract strawes and light bodies, and convert the needle freely placed
—Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1st edition, p. 51

In the context of the quote above, an “electric” (spelled “electrick” in those times) was a non-conductor. Confusing, eh? An “electric” during those times was actually an object that were capable of attracting light bodies (much like bits of paper) when excited by friction. Following this logic, a piece of amber was therefore an “electric”, while a rod of iron was not. “Electricity”, during that era, was a term used to describe the property of behaving like “electrics”.

There came, then, the time when the definition of “electricity” shifted to refer to the cause of the attraction rather than to the property of being attractive.

The meaning of the word further evolved. Today, a large majority of publications no longer refer to “electricity” as “electric charge”; instead they speak of “electricity” as “electromagnetic energy”. The definition has changed even more drastically: Many authors now use the word “electricity” to mean “electric current” (amperes), “energy flow” (watts), “electric potential” (volts), or “electric force”.

These myriad definition could probably be the reason why the term “Quantity of Electricity” – frequently used in the works of Franklin, Faraday, Maxwell, Millikan, J. J. Thomson and, even, Einstein – is already seeing less usage from present-day scientists. Physics textbooks no longer utilize the terms “Quantity of Electricity” or “Flow of Electricity”. “Quantity of Electricity” is gradually being replaced by “charge of electricity” or simply “charge”. Owing to the great discrepancy of the meaning of the term “electricity” in different situations, today’s energy industry experts prefer to use the term “charge” to refer to the quantity of electricity to avoid any possible confusion.  


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Keeping the power rolling

It was in 2010 when the idea of an “empowered” ball was first documented. Four Harvard graduates conceptualized a soccer ball infused with a pendulum-like mechanism that would rotate to power a generator, which would then charge a battery inside the ball. This essentially meant that after 30 minutes of playing with the ball, it would already be capable of powering an LED light bulb for several hours, and that a two-hour game would allow the ball to charge a cell phone.

It is easy to infer that the ball was primarily created with the aim of solving one of the world’s most daunting challenges: Billions around the world do not have regular, reliable access to electricity. One of the proponents, who come from an African descent, would often recount in interviews the energy challenges she would face when she would visit her grandmother’s home in Nigeria. The thought that many children in the world’s most underdeveloped communities still suffer from playing under a single lamppost or from studying beside a dangerous kerosene lamp drove the exponents to take the technology further. With a two-fold objective of giving school children a means of recreation and a small-scale reliable supply of electricity, the “empowered” ball was distributed in schools and to depressed rural communities around the world.

From the foregoing, one thing is clear – the invention of the electric ball is an effort towards rural electrification. While it may be obvious that thousands, maybe millions of electric soccer balls are needed (not to mention around hundreds of thousands of hours playing) to supply energy to the entire population of the world without access to electricity, the traction that the invention is gaining from investors and supporters around the world represents a start towards the desired direction.

The transformation of rural electrification

Electrification of rural communities has traditionally been based on electricity supply from a central grid, mainly owing to the “economies of scale” achieved with large-scale power plants. Recent technological advances in alternative power sources, however, have made it sensible to consider decentralized sources of energy, like photovoltaic systems, wind turbines, biomass and fuel cells. Innovation in alternative sources of electricity is further driven by local and international agreements reinforcing a reduction in emissions, and a ramp-up in the efficiency of production and use of energy.

Research studies show that at present, more than ever, the electrification of rural and remote communities in emerging countries will be based on decentralized power facilities. But, as the demand for electricity grows as the population increases and as lifestyles evolve, rural electrification activities should be designed and implemented within a precise policy framework. Industry players find merit in using excess power generated by rural industrial enterprises to support public electricity sully, and in considering small-scale independent power producers fully fledged suppliers of electricity. Energy industry authorities advocate a stringent cooperation between utility providers and rural customers, as well as the adoption of a well-defined marketing and technical function.

The fact that rural electricity supply is more expensive relative to urban energy supply is often seen as a disadvantage by utility providers. But, in light of the truth that billions of people are struggling with the lack of access to dependable power, energy thought leaders say that the predicament should be seen a challenge more than a bane. With the available technological options and the growing support of transformative investors, industry key players do not see a reason why rural electrification efforts should not be carried forward.

*Watch out for Part 2 of this article, where we will aim to take a close look at critical success factors of rural electrification*

Media Contact:

Robert Bagatsing (Harvard SMM)
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

What can be done to maximize power plant efficiency?

In 2050, the United Nations predict that there will be 9.6 billion people in the world. The steep rise in the world’s population brings about a proportionate increase in the demand for electricity, and in the face of today’s power-related challenges, the question on people’s lips is “How else can the world’s existing energy facilities sustain such a vast power requirement?”

Nowadays, various governmental, quasi-governmental and utility-related entities have been making inroads into tapping the potential of renewable energy sources to support the power generation capacity of existing power plants. Efforts are being driven to enhance available renewable energy technologies, with the aim of having them produce amounts of power at par with the traditional ones. Myriad reports show that various installations have been successful, with some countries, particularly in Africa, embracing renewable technologies as one of their main sources of electricity for domestic consumption.

Another plausible contributor to the enhancement of the world’s electrical energy generation is increasing the efficiency of existing power plants. There are several strategies that operators can employ in order to optimize the performance of electricity generation facilities. Raising the level of the operational efficiency of power plants will not only improve their electricity production, but will also heighten their environmental friendliness.

Experts agree that having an advanced flow measurement system installed may help ensure that a power plant runs efficiently. It is important that power plant engineers measure the capacity at which a facility is running at a particular point in time to be able to ascertain how much longer they will need to operate generators and turbines to maintain the efficiency of the power plant. An equipment that engineers can use in measuring operational data is a flow meter, which determines the amount of liquid or gas in a specific area at a given time.

Power plant operators, they add, may also choose to employ technologies, such as fluidized bed combustion and integrated gasification technology to improve the efficiency of existing power plants. The mentioned systems have the capability to reduce CO2 emissions from coal by 25%, which would result in a 6% reduction in global CO2 emissions.

Fluidized bed combustion, on the one hand, provides a flexible method of electricity generation while being environmentally friendly, reducing SOX and NOX emissions by a remarkable 90%. This system gives power plants the leverage of using coal waste as an energy source, which would otherwise be discarded. 

Integrated gasification combined cycle, on the other hand, is a process which entails the conversion of heavy oil and refinery bottoms into a fuel known as synthesis gas (syngas) and then use this to produce electricity in a gas turbine combined cycle system. As of the moment, the technology is being further developed, and industry players say that once the system is even more stable, it can have a pronounced impact on several allied industries.

In addition to enhancing electricity production, power plant engineers may also look at reducing the amount of energy used in the power facilities themselves to maximize the level of electricity reaching the grid. According to industry studies, a traditional power plant uses seven per cent of its own electrical output to operate its systems. Experts ascribe the majority of energy consumption in power plants to the motors that run pumps, mills, fans and auxiliary systems. Therefore, they say, one of the possible remedies to the foregoing predicament is to employ an integrated solution that combines variable speed drives (VSDs) with efficient motors. This way, the energy that was previously wasted can be sold to the grid, or the fuel lost generating it can be saved.

There are several other ways that by which power plant professionals can improve the efficiency of their facilities. These methods, combined with the efforts key industry stakeholders are exerting towards enhancing alternative energy sources, can prove to be vital in sustaining the world’s ever-increasing demand for precious electricity. As the energy fraternity braces for the expected sharp rise in power requirement in the coming decades, harnessing the potential of several feasible sources, traditional and renewable, to name two, will be of utmost essence. Energy professionals should keep in mind to always maintain and update power generation facilities, as a momentary loss of power, load shedding, electricity outage or blackout may lead to catastrophic economic, social and political consequences.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How energy and water are intertwined

As the world’s population grows, the demand for both resources will continue to increase, and managing the two assets collectively will help maintain dependable and sustainable supplies of both water and energy for the coming generations.

Water and electricity are the foremost utilities we use at home or in the office. How many times have you experienced panicking because there was no water when you turned on the tap, or because the TV power indicator would not turn on? Easy access to water and energy has characterized the life of many of us in recent decades that living without them within possibly three decades is utterly unimaginable.

But, do you know that water and energy are, in fact, not all too separate? In fact utility industry players say that what affects water has a notable effect on power, and this is true even the other way around. A collective analysis of water and power has the potential to greatly help business, community, environmental and governmental stakeholders in trying to come up with the most sustainable solutions to the world’s escalating challenges in the maintenance of natural resources.

Water-energy nexus
According to studies, all types of electric power generation entail water, either in processing raw materials utilized in the energy facilities, constructing or maintaining power plants or in producing electricity. In reality, while renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind, use very little or no water in creating energy, water may be needed in developing raw materials used in building turbines and solar panels.

One of the methods of power generation that is observed to be highly dependent on the availability of water is, of course, hydropower generation. In no process does water prove to be essential than in hydropower plants, because variations in rainfall and temperature will considerably affect water levels in dams and reservoirs, and the health of the turbines. For example, in an impoundment-type hydropower plant, river water is stored in a reservoir through the use of a dam. Water released from the reservoirs flow through a turbine, and the spinning of the turbine activate a generator to produce electricity.

Water-related weather phenomena like droughts or floods can lead to exceedingly low levels of water in dams, or to destruction of and damage to turbines due to silt, respectively. When hydropower generation plants suffer these devastating predicaments, shortage in electricity supply may ensue, and a country’s economy may be rendered unstable.

Developing and exploiting petroleum and oil & gas resources also use large amounts of water. Though water is not completely eliminated, the process produces wastewater that needs to be disposed of or treated before being reused.

Water used in electrical power creation processes are either consumed or withdrawn. When water is consumed, it either disappears or is diverted from its origin. The danger is that the source may no longer be replenished, or if it does, it may take decades, or even longer. In cases when water is withdrawn, the quality of water that is given back to the source may no longer be the same as the time when water was extracted. It may be different in oxygen content, salinity, acidity, radioactivity and temperature, to name a few, and the changes may harm the environment and humans who will utilize it. 

On the other hand, water supply and sewage disposal needs energy. A considerable amount of energy is needed to extract, transport, treat and use water in urban and rural areas. For instance, drinking water must be pumped to treatment facilities, pre-treated, and then pushed or transported to consumers. According to experts, energy consumed in pumping groundwater is within the area of 537 kWh and 2,270 kWh per million gallons depending on the pumping depth.

Water desalination is another process that involves a considerably high energy consumption. As fresh water may not always be abundant or available, salt water is desalinated to produce water suitable for human consumption or irrigation. Compared to extracting water from rivers or the ground, water recycling or water conservation process, desalination entails a relatively increased level of electricity.

In light of the foregoing, the fact that water and energy are critical, reciprocally reliant resources may be a foregone conclusion. The production of electrical energy requires huge amounts of water, and water extraction, treatment and availability necessitate energy. Today, the world is facing a looming water-energy crisis that threatens to limit the amount of drinking water and of water to be used for electricity generation in the coming decades. Fragmented policies to tackle this challenge are only seen to give rise to short-term, non-viable results. As the world’s population grows, the demand for both resources will continue to increase, and managing the two assets collectively will help maintain dependable and sustainable supplies of both water and energy for the coming generations.

Post scriptum
Did you know that there is a process of energy generation that harnesses the power of tides? Tidal energy generators involve large underwater turbines that are designed to capture the kinetic motion of the ebbing and surging of ocean tides to produce electricity. Owing to the enormous size of the world’s oceans, tidal power generation is said to have the potential to be a main source of energy for countries blessed with the necessary resources. 


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Monday, August 11, 2014

Will the world be thirsty for energy?

In an era when engineering has pushed the envelope of production possibilities, the challenge may no longer be to attain greater heights, but rather to promote the longevity and viability of limited resources, like water.  

Back in the days when economies were organic, production depended on land, labor and capital. The latter two were capable of indefinite expansion, but land was limited. Almost all basic necessities in an organic economy – supply of food and raw materials that entered into production – depended on a finite resource that was land. Hence, the early humans were faced with a conundrum: Expanding material production would mean obtaining greater volume of produce from land, but that, in turn, would lead to the cultivation of land of inferior quality or to the use of existing land more intensively. When this situation persists, returns to both capital and labor would diminish. 

Classical economist, Adam Smith succinctly states the problem, spelling out its implications on the living standards of the population and on the return on capital (1789):

“In a country which had acquired that full complement of riches which the nature of its soil and climate, and its situation with respect to other countries, allowed it to acquire; which could, therefore, advance no further, and which was not going backwards, both the wages of labor and the profit of stock would probably be very low.”

David Ricardo, another classical economist, supported Adam Smith, and said that the resulting situation “will necessarily be rendered permanent by the laws of nature, which have limited the productive powers of the land”.

Have we overcome limitations?

Fast forward to today’s world…. 

The days of the organic economy have sailed, and the industrial revolution has powered production to a whole new level. Countries are now experiencing unprecedented growth patterns, and almost all sectors of the society and of the economy are dependent on electrical power to operate. Humanity has indeed made great strides to reach the era where it is now.  

But in this day and age of exceptional production capabilities, one truth has not changed, which still calls Smith and Ricardo to mind: Each country only has a limited amount of sources that it can acquire, and once obtained, the consumption will yield permanent effects by virtue of the laws of nature. This declaration may mean that the very process of growth as we know it implies that it cannot be sustained indefinitely. As growth depends on finite assets to persist, every increase in production will entail an equivalent escalation in consumption and destruction of resources. 

This hypothesis is no more evident than in these days. A recent study circulated by Aarhus University in Denmark predicts that if the current global power consumption pattern continues, there would not be enough water in the world to meet the demand by 2040. As water is used in different methods of power generation, increasing energy demand results in a proportional spike in the requirement for water. Therefore, experts are now suggesting that in order to curb the recession of the world’s water supply, current electricity generation procedures should evolve into approaches that do not need water to run. 

It seems, however, that humanity does not have the luxury of a 27-year deadline…. The same research adds that the effects of the continued rise in energy demand could be felt in some areas as early as in 2020. An estimated 30%-40% of the world will experience scarcity and lack of access to clean drinking water in 2020, and climate change is predicted to render its effects worse. 

The fact that the amount of the world’s water reserves is receding will not only put drinking water consumption in jeopardy but also the capability of power plants to produce electricity for generations to come.   

How to avert a power-water paradox

In order to mitigate the negative effects of power generation on the world’s water reserves, experts recommend turning to renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar. This makes perfect sense in the context of Smith and Ricardo’s scenario described above: Limitations will only exist if production is anchored on finite resources. Therefore, if one substitutes this factor with an infinite resource, restraints would cease to be, and growth could be sustained indefinitely. 

To date, there have been several countries in the world that have adopted initiatives to increase their renewable energy input in the coming decades. Germany, for instance, has set ambitious goals of boosting renewable energy to 35% of the country’s entire energy mix by 2020, and to 80% by 2050. Scandinavian countries have also established similar objectives. In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, for example, have recently inaugurated a large-scale solar power plant within the outskirts of Dubai, and has announced its subsequent extension in years to come. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also been leading the research and development efforts in terms of renewable energy. 

That there are countries embracing the call for evolving energy generation processes has been documented, and more newly developed and, even, developing countries are following suit. One truth, however, cannot be taken out of the picture: Renewable energy systems, like wind and solar plants, are constantly developing and, at best, are experiencing a nascent upturn in terms of acceptance and technological innovation. As with any other systems, solar and wind farms still have room for improvement and may find benefits in the support of other equipment. Moreover, as renewable systems are powered by nature-driven energies, it may be challenging to predict their performance and have them deliver the same amount of continuous energy as traditional power plants.

As renewable energy engineers perfect wind and solar technologies, temporary power plants could support these systems by providing supplementary power to the areas where they operate. For instance, when wind energy facilities experience unstable production due to the unpredictability of wind, rental power plants may be able to assist in stabilizing the supply, so end-users may not experience power interruptions or blackouts. Rental power plants are equipped with technologies that can guarantee an immediate response at the outset of a supply instability from renewable facilities.

Case-in point, interim energy facilities are infused with fast-start systems that allows them to supply power at the shortest time possible. They are also adaptable enough to ascertain the exact need of the users, and flexible enough to allow for ramp-ups or scale-down of energy supply depending on the situation. They also represent a cost- and time-efficient alternative to building permanent power plants for the purposes of supporting renewable energy systems. 

Onwards to a greener future

In light of the grim repercussions that the present energy-water predicament may bring in the near future, the need to find suitable alternative sources of energy is heightened. But as one may predict, the perfection and the adoption of technologies cannot happen overnight nor in a span of few years. There are numerous factors involved in shifting a paradigm, and for a technology to gain traction, all variables involved should agree to head to the same direction. 

While experts are looking into the improvement of renewable energy generation facilities, these systems may find merit in tapping the support of other stable technologies, like rental generators. As the world transitions to alternative power generation processes, the need of the hour may not be to look for one method to dominate or overthrow another: What is essential to is find a balanced energy mix – traditional, renewable and temporary – where sources complement each other to create a system that will be capable of providing the most sustainable and stable electricity supply possible.

Human engineering has made it possible to work around limitations to production. Humans have found a way to transition from an economy largely dependent on muscle power and animal strength, to one run by steam and coal, to one anchored on petroleum, oil & gas and electrical energy. Now, in an era when engineering has pushed the envelope of production possibilities, the challenge may no longer be to attain greater heights, but rather to promote the longevity and viability of limited resources, like water.  


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Road to Growth

Economic excitement is back in many countries in the world. Construction activities have picked up, investment is flowing and manufacturing has once again gained momentum. India’s economy, for instance, reflects a buoyant growth rate of around 5.3% in 2014 and 5.8% in 2015, riding high on intense government and private sector funding and on an aggressive push to build new and improve on existing public and industrial facilities. Naturally, India’s new found economic vitality has attracted entities and professionals from all over the world to set up shop and work in the country, respectively. From information technology to industrial manufacturing to consumer goods, the best global brands are flocking to India as a safe bet of investment.

While the foregoing bodes well for the future of the country and its people, the frenetic pace of economic and social activities in India is taking its toll on the country’s power supply. A study conducted by India’s Central Electricity Authority reported that energy deficiency would be felt across the country and that the spare power capacity of the northern regions would gradually recede. The situation described above has actually been looming for a time now: Recorded data in recent years showed that demand for energy in India had consistently outstripped the supply, both in terms of base load energy and peak availability. India, the data suggested, registered an 8.5% deficit in base load requirement and 9.8% short-fall in peak load requirement.

The government, in recognition of the foregoing, had initiated rural and urban electrification projects that comprised power plants that run on traditional and alternative energy sources. The discrepancy between the rates of the addition of electric power supply and the growth of demand, however, is that wide that the available energy is never enough to fulfill the requirement. And the gap is observed to be continuously growing, whether in generation, transmission or distribution….

The repercussion of the power deficiency is real. In 2012, a massive blackout left 700 million people in India without electricity. In what is touted to be one of the worst blackouts in history, 20 of India’s 28 states suffered the effects of the power interruption that almost incited social instability and protest for fears that the country was no longer able to support its booming local energy demand.
With the feverish growth rate of economic and social activities in India, the country’s demand for electricity should show no signs of slowing down.

How can energy be sustained?
One has to face the truth that permanent power plant projects cannot be completed in days or months. Permanent energy facilities may take decades to complete, as planning, designing, approving, constructing and commissioning them entail time, effort and processes that go through different channels. What, then, can be done? Is there anything that can possibly support the permanent infrastructure while the new ones are being built?

Temporary power generation companies, like Altaaqa Global CAT Rental Power, have the technologies that have the capacity to support the existing power generation infrastructure, bridging the gap in electricity supply as, where and when the necessity be. In times when the power demand heavily outstrips the supply, rental power generators, running on diesel for example, can prove to be viable and affordable sources of energy to avoid disastrous power interruptions, unscheduled load shedding and widespread blackouts.

Though some parts of the country may have occasional spare power capacity, its availability may be periodic and can be severely affected by a disrupted seasonal pattern. For instance, some parts of the country where hydroelectric power stations operate may experience droughts or prolonged absence of rain, which in turn can drastically reduce the power generation capacity of the said plants. Solar or photovoltaic farms thrive during summer months but may experience shortage in production in months when days are predominantly cloudy or rainy. In these cases, rental power plants may support the power generation capacity of the current facilities to bridge the gap during the crucial months of seasonal change.

With its booming industrial manufacturing sector, production facilities in India often need to double, may be even triple, their capacities to meet the international production requirement in certain months, say during Christmas or Diwali. The consequent spike in power consumption may usher in operational challenges. It is highly probable that during the peak months, utility companies will set ceiling caps for electricity consumption or will ask production facilities to pay an additional consumption premium during peak hours. In this case, based on cost-benefit studies conducted among industries within the arc of peak months, it will be more economically sound for manufacturing facilities to hire temporary power plants than to pay an additional fee for every peak kilowatt used, shut down parts of the production complex when power usage is at its peak, or pay a hefty fine for using more power than what has been allocated. Peaker power plants (peakers for short) are an ideal solution offered by energy rental companies to curb seasonal electricity demand during peak production months.

Power partner checklist
To fully capitalize on the advantages of temporary power technologies, the governments and the utility companies in India need to be discerning in hiring an interim energy service provider. In selecting a temporary electricity partner, one should look at the provider’s experience, organization, support system, rate of deployment and equipment reliability and sustainability before signing an agreement with it.

One of the most important things to consider when entering into an agreement with a rental energy provider is its track record in delivering executable, measurable and sustainable solutions to a wide array of projects. If the mobile generator company cannot supply the required power, it may cause more delays in the project, eventually leading to legal disputes and further economic damages. The Indian government and utility companies should avoid dealing with backyard rental companies that will over-promise but will eventually under-deliver. One should ask, ‘Can we really trust mom-and-pop rental power companies when we are supplying power to airports, hospitals, mining facilities, telecommunication entities and petrochemical companies?’

Though temporary power plants are engineered to endure even the harshest conditions known to man, they are by no means indestructible. The governments and the utility companies in India must keep in mind that the service of a rental energy company should not end when the electric power generators are switched on. The company should have the spare parts and the human resources to carry out after-sales support to installed and commissioned projects at any given location, at any given time. One should ask, ‘Do we stop a 100 MW power plant simply because there was no available spare part?’

An interim energy partner should have the capability to react, deploy, mobilize and commission temporary power plants at a moment’s notice. This means that the provider should have available equipment and manpower on the ground to carry out a rapid delivery. If the power rental company has the available equipment to deploy and a team of professional logistic personnel that can deal with the complexities of ports, customs and transportation, it can immediately solve the power crisis.

Providing solutions to power requirement of different entities does not follow a template nor is it governed by a rule of thumb. Each case should be carefully studied and evaluated in order for rental power companies to prescribe an optimal solution. The only way that an interim energy company can afford to meet the exact requirement of any client is for it to have the adequate and state-of-the-art technologies available in its product line.

Now, there is a solution
The power supply situation in India does not have to be a Catch-22. India could not possibly turn its back on investors and professionals saying that they could not stay in the country because they would eventually consume electricity, putting more pressure on the country’s power facilities. On the other hand, India could not go on growing its economy at the expense of its limited power supply that, when severely overwhelmed, might eventually collapse and cause a massive socio-economic tragedy. In times of tough choices, such as this, rental power plants can make a difference. With interim generators supporting the existing power infrastructure, India can go on its road to economic growth without sacrificing the country’s energy supply. While the permanent power facilities are underway, rental energy plants can bridge the electricity gap, allowing India to power its way to a brighter future.


*The foregoing article was published in the July 2014 issue of Power Line magazine (India Infrastructure Publishing, India).*

Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Power to grow sub-Saharan Africa’s economy

While achieving a buoyant economic climate is a feat in itself, the real challenge lies in staying afloat. To sustain the economic optimism that Africa is now enjoying, it is imperative that governments, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, address the critical issue of chronic power shortage, which hampers the development of various industries in the region.

Africa has remained resilient in the face of the economic headwind of the previous years. This was the good news delivered by the African Development Bank (AfDB), which recently presented the African Economic Outlook 2014 in its annual meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. Africa’s economic growth, the continent-wide document suggested, was expected to reach 4,8% in 2014 and 5,7% in 2015, on its way to hitting the same numbers as it had before the 2009 economic downturn. The economic expansion, the report indicated, would be driven by domestic demand, infrastructure and a heightened continental trade in manufactured goods. Moreover, the report revealed that direct and portfolio foreign investments were projected to reach US$80-billion in 2014, and financial flows towards the continent were predicted to surpass $200-billion – four times its year 2000 level.

The above-mentioned growth projections bode well for the entire continent, and AfDB suggested that in order to sustain the momentum and achieve economic sustainability and a development breakthrough, Africa would need to participate more actively in the global production of goods and services. In this way, added AfDB, the continent could boost its economic diversification, domestic resource mobilization and investments in critical infrastructure.

Is there enough power, though?
Since the industrial revolution, power has always been identified as a key factor in encouraging economic growth, and that still holds true today. In the light of Africa’s ambition of achieving economic sustainability, diversity and viability, the continent needs to ramp up its production and industrial activities, and to achieve that, it needs the staying power. The question, however, is “does the continent have enough energy supply to power its way to the future?”

Though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concurred with AfDB, it sounded a caveat when it said that the observed power supply deficiency in the continent may rein in economic growth. It has been documented that some 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa were facing an energy crisis, evidenced by rolling blackouts, and that some 30 countries in region had suffered acute energy crises in recent years. While the Key World Energy Statistics by the International Energy Agency reported that electricity generation in Africa rose from 1,8% in 1973 to 3,1% in 2011, the continent still remained to have the smallest share globally, despite being the second most populous continent.

Nigeria, for instance, a country that has three times the population of the South Africa, only has one-tenth of the power generation capacity of the latter, and enterprises are already complaining about regular power interruptions. In Tanzania, a month-long blackout was experienced in Zanzibar when the underwater cable lines supplying power to the archipelago failed, following a surge in demand. As a result, residents were paying $10 daily to run diesel powered domestic generators, while businesses requiring refrigeration or heating had to suspend operations until the power was restored. In Kenya, it has been observed that only 25% of the population had access to electricity, and that only 5% of the country’s rural areas had access to the grid. The occasional recession of the water level in some of Angola’s rivers affects power production, disturbing other services, like water distribution. Luanda’s water supply firm, EPAL, cited that various areas in Luanda experienced water supply shortage, owing to challenges related to power distribution.

Touted to be Africa’s biggest copper producer, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) advised mining companies in the country to suspend any project expansion which would require more power, due to a power shortage that, the government said, would take years to resolve. While the country would reportedly institute an electricity-rationing program, mining companies were encouraged to postpone signing new contracts, in an effort to slowdown the growth of electricity demand in the country. Even the region’s largest economy, South Africa, was not exempt from power-related woes. In fact, in a recent communiqué, Eskom, supplier of 95% of the country’s electricity, warned residents of a rolling blackout due to load-shedding, which it said, was to protect the electricity grid from total failure. Eskom said it had begun scaling down maintenance to prepare for winter, but in the face of a rising demand, particularly during peak hours, it appealed to the public to reduce power consumption by at least 10%. If the power demand does not decline, then, the company said, load shedding would be the last resort to avoid a total power shutdown.

With Africa’s population expected to double to approximately 1.9 billion people by 2050, the World Bank said that a much higher investment would be needed to at least double Africa’s current levels of energy access by 2030. In fact, it is estimated that the sub-Saharan region would require more than $300-billion in investments to achieve total electrification by 2030.

Boosting energy
As a response to this pressing need, countries in the region are mapping out strategies to supply more energy through alternative solutions. In the DRC, for instance, the Grand Inga hydroelectric project, expected to boost the country’s power supply by 44 000 MW, is said to be gaining traction, while in Zimbabwe upgrades to the Kariba South hydropower and the Hwange thermal coal plants, forecast to add about 300 MW and 600 MW, respectively, are reportedly in the pipeline. South Africa is also reported to be cooking up the building of two new coal-fired power stations at Kusile and Medupi, expected to individually add approximately 4 800 MW of capacity.

The afore-mentioned initiatives are a testament to the tremendous attention that these countries are paying to their respective power generation challenges. Governments and private entities alike have been putting years’ worth of research and investigation, and billions worth of investment, to draw up the myriad adverse economic and social effects of electricity supply deficiency. A crucial element in the equation, however, is time, and in a world governed by more stringent business practices, faster turnarounds and heightened interdependency, the essence of time transcends chronos. Today, time may mean the difference between profit and loss, between political unrest and stability, and between economic growth and uncertainty.

The price of power: Focus on Southern Africa
Southern Africa was observed to have absorbed the blow of the power crisis in recent years. Blackouts brought cities to a standstill and spelt terminal financial losses to small- and medium-size companies. One of the region’s flagship industries, mining, was also unfavorably affected, prompting mining companies to halt expansion plans and repress local power usage. When Eskom deemed to cut down its electricity export to support its power demand at home, the electricity supply in Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland, countries that import power from South Africa, was severely affected.

The foregoing, however, was not unexpected. In 1998, the government of South Africa apparently acknowledged the necessity of investing in electricity infrastructure amidst the threat of a power crisis looming large. It deemed, therefore, to privatize Eskom to inject new capital, thus encouraging a ramp up on its efficiency. The finalization of any agreement, however, was reported to have taken longer than expected, and by 2008, the utility found itself unable to support the then-existing power demand.

Other governments in the region were said to have admitted to underestimating the trajectory of power requirements. In 2008, Botswana Power Corporation said that the energy forecast was skewed by the proliferation of new mines, which meant a steep spike in power demand, not only in Botswana, but also in other countries, such as Zambia.

At present, solutions are underway – but they, naturally, will not come cheap. Economic reports indicated that, at the prevailing growth rate of the demand from industries and residents, the region would have to double its power generating capacity by 2025, at an approximate cost of $171-billion in South Africa alone. Of that amount, $45-billion would supposedly have been needed before 2013.

In order to sustain this projection, the governments have identified potential sources of funds, such as approved power rate hikes and foreign investment. Yet, power hikes could stir alarm and protest from the citizens and trade unions, and could prompt industrial entities, like mining corporations, to cut down on operations, putting jobs and production at risk. Foreign investment agreements, on the other hand, could take time to materialise, and the planning, designing, installation and commissioning of alternative power generation projects may entail years, if not decades.

Bridging the power gap now
Unstable electricity production and regular power interruptions bring about a multitude of negative impacts to any country’s economy, business and citizens. In today’s world, power has become a fundamental element for any economy to function, as every sector of the modern society, be it domestic, commercial or industrial, is heavily dependent on electricity. Nowadays, a power interruption affecting critical facilities, such as hospitals, airports, telecommunications towers, data centers, mining facilities and oil & gas installations, has the potential to put an entire country, region or city to a standstill, and in light of globalization, the consequences could transcend national or regional borders.

Hiring interim power generation plants to bridge the gap between the demand and the supply of electricity yields many advantages, particularly when there is a foreseeable delay in the fruition of permanent power generation facilities or when the temporary power is immediately needed. It was clear in the above-mentioned examples that countries in sub-Saharan Africa are looking to mitigate the observed deficiency in power supply by upgrading existing facilities, soliciting foreign investment to build new power plants and harnessing the potential of alternative sources of energy, including geothermal, solar, hydro and nuclear. While the aforementioned initiatives have recognized and acknowledged merits and potential, they may require further research, planning, designing and legislation, and additional physical facilities to be operational; and this takes time.

When time is of essence, rental power companies, like Altaaqa Global CAT Rental Power, are capable of providing solutions as needed, when needed. Utility companies in the region, can hire temporary power plants in times when demand outpaces the supply, when the electrical grid is unstable or when power distribution networks are unavailable, like in the rural areas. This will allow them to bridge the supply deficit without waiting for another day. Hiring power generators can prove to be a viable solution to power supply inefficiency, bridging the power gap while the permanent power solution is still in progress.

Powering the way to the future
The world welcomes the positive outlook of Africa’s economy. The continent that was once regarded as a tailender in terms of development, is now making an aggressive move towards economic stability and viability. While achieving a buoyant economic climate is a feat in itself, the real challenge lies in staying afloat. To sustain the economic optimism that Africa is now enjoying, it is imperative that the governments, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, address the critical issue of chronic power shortage, which could hamper the development of various industries in the countries. The effort that the region’s governments are applying to address this predicament is commendable, but there exist other entities which can help them to further alleviate the situation. Rented power addresses the issues of urgency, cost-efficiency, reliability, energy-efficiency and environmental safety. In recognition of the indispensable role of electricity in today’s modern society, it is advisable that utility companies provide for a contingent power solution in cases of power interruption that may lead to operational delays and, ultimately, negative social, economic and financial consequences.


* The foregoing article was published in the June 2014 issue of Energize (EE Publishers, South Africa). To read more: *


Robert Bagatsing

Altaaqa Global

Tel: +971 56 1749505

Salary: Is It Really a Motivation in the Energy Industry?

Is salary still the sole motivating factor in the energy industry?

If the opinion of energy industry professionals is any indication, one of the most difficult questions to answer in a job interview is “How much is your expected salary?” Considering that at the outset, approximately 80% of all professionals feel that the most important factor in considering a job opportunity is salary, estimating one’s compensation requirement can be a daunting task, especially if one is put on the spot.

Scratching beneath the surface, however, a question may pop in one’s mind: Is salary indeed the be-all and end-all of maintaining the engagement and the high performance of an employee in the energy sector? This thought is of particular interest to employees, because the answer to that question may lead them to consider other factors in making a career decision other than monetary rewards. On the part of industry companies, knowing the response to this conundrum may help them formulate other employee satisfaction schemes, aside from regular pay increments and financial bonuses.

The results of a latest study circulated through Harvard Business Review reveal that the association between salary and job satisfaction, regardless of culture and job location, is very weak. The reported correlation indicates that there is less than a 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels. Moreover, the study also suggests that the connection between pay and pay satisfaction was only slightly higher, meaning that the employees’ fulfillment with their salary is largely independent of how much they are actually receiving.

Are employees receiving hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Dollars more satisfied than those that get less? Not really. The study indicates that employees earning salaries in the top-level of the data range considered reported similar levels of job satisfaction as those employees earning in the bottom-half.

In fact, what is more shocking is that higher salaries can actually even demotivate employees.

In another study still published in Harvard Business Review, results from over 120 experiments reveal that incentives may have negative effects on employee motivation. This observation is particularly more prevalent when tasks were interesting or gratifying. The research shows that for every standard deviation increase in remuneration, intrinsic motivation for interesting tasks decreases by around 25%. Moreover, when rewards are monetary, tangible, predictable and foreseeable, employee engagement could go down by as much as 36%. 

Can money buy employee engagement?

Though not to be taken as absolute truth, results from the studies cited above reveal that money does not always buy employee dedication, satisfaction and performance. No matter if the salary of an employee in an energy company falls under these brackets…


            Ave. annual salary*

USD $655,365
Energy Procurement Specialist
Power Consortium Manager
Vice President
Performance Engineer
Startup Engineer
Energy Scientist
Commissioning Manager
Structural Drafter
General Manager
Oil & Gas Division Manager
Petroleum Engineer
Power Plant Manager
Startup Manager
*Source: Recent survey from a recruitment firm based in Dubai. Salary survey conducted online to mechanical, electrical and non- engineering positions within the utility power plant, oil & gas and energy related industries.

…or if he or she is constantly showered with bonuses and allowances, money is not an unconditional guarantee for his or her engagement.

One thing, though, is clear: The meaning of money to different people is largely subjective. Different individuals see different values in money for a variety of reasons. If employees in the energy industry, and also in other sectors, want to be truly happy with their jobs, they have to understand what they really value – be it power, freedom, job security, co-employees or friendship in the workplace. Conversely, if companies want to motivate their workforce and retain their best assets, they have to look beyond the premise that what works for some people will also work for everyone else. The onus is on them to know their employees better and to fashion a compensation system that they think will yield the maximum results.

About Altaaqa Global

Altaaqa Global, a subsidiary of Zahid Group, has been selected by Caterpillar Inc. to deliver multi-megawatt turnkey temporary power solutions worldwide. The company owns, mobilizes, installs, and operates efficient temporary independent power plants (IPP’s) at customer sites, focusing on the emerging markets of Sub-Sahara Africa, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Offering power rental equipment that will operate with different types of fuel such as diesel, natural gas, or dual-fuel, Altaaqa Global is positioned to rapidly deploy and provide temporary power plant solutions, delivering electricity whenever and wherever it may be needed. 

For more info, visit 

Media Inquiries:
Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global, Caterpillar Rental Power
T: +971 4 8808006   |  F: +971 4 8808007    |  M: +971 56 1749505