Regional Insights MENA: Industry Snapshot and Related Cable Considerations

As the MENA countries are seeking to diversify their economies, newer technologies among industries are progressively being prioritised and various countries are competing to grow - attracting multiple international companies and building the regional businesses. As a result, the cable product demand is becoming increasingly critical towards the growth of these industries. Read about the various industries such as power transmission and distribution, renewable solar energy, construction, and oil and gas industries and the importance of specifying third party approved cables to ensure quality and cable safety from our Regional Technical Manager for MENA.

Current trends in the cable industry for the MENA region and the importance given to cable testing and third party approved cables

The MENA region is expected to gain momentum during the next few years on account of the surge in the construction activities, growing electricity generation from renewable sources along with rapidly increasing power demand and development of transmission and distribution infrastructure. Additionally, the government initiatives such as 'Qatar National Vision 2030', 'Saudi Vision 2030', 'UAE Vision 2030', and 'Bahrain Economic Vision 2030' would give a remarkable thrust to the development of the non-oil economy and smart cities, thereby driving the wires and cables market in the region.

Regional manufacturers are introducing new developmental products for various applications or sectors such as solar cables, nuclear cables, marine cables, special oil and gas industry cables, etc. However, when it comes to cable testing or approved cables, the cable manufacturers are driven by market specification for certification, product approval, type testing or conformity assessment. Only few manufacturers are proactive when it comes to the manufacturing process audit and testing by third party for quality assurance.

Independent cable testing from a third party is asked in majority of projects. Only a few specifiers including consultants, project owners and utilities are aware of the importance of approved cables for continuous quality and sustainability rather than just one time type tested cables. BASEC recognises this and is playing a major role in creating awareness, as we believe in quality cables being used in the market. It is essential for specifiers to recognise the need for specifying third-party approved cables in project specifications for all types of cables over type testing.

Q1 - What are the gaps in the power transmission and distribution sector in the region when it comes to electrical cables?

The power transmission and distribution sector is continuously adapting to meet demand and supply requirements of the region, so is the requirement of operation and maintenance of the equipment in the network. When it comes to the operation of Medium Voltage (MV) cables such as 11kV, 22kV and 33kV cables - it is important to reduce faults and breakdowns to ensure longer cable life expectancy. MV cable breakdown can be either electrical, mechanical, or thermal failures; the most common faults in cables reported are:

  • Due to partial discharges, electrical stress in voids, and overheating
  • Nonconsistency in insulation screen thickness, its bonding with insulation and volume resistivity control
  • Loose contact of the metallic screen with the core and its proper coverage for equal electrical stress
  • Poor quality of insulation raw materials losing physical properties over the period of operation
  • Manufacturing defects not traced - especially in large supply or projects

As a measure, utilities, end clients or consultants must incorporate the approach of specifying certified MV cables or product approved MV cables for continuous quality monitoring. Type Testing of MV Cables which is usually performed once in a lifetime for a particular cable construction, would not be sufficient for quality control in harsh environmental conditions of the MENA region. The hundreds of kilometres of MV Cables and thousands of kilometres of Low Voltage (LV) power cables are used by utilities yearly. The cost for product approval of cables from independent third parties is significantly less compared to cable cost and consequently can help increase the lifecycle of projects through approved cables.

Labours Laying Cables for a Distribution Network in MENALabours Laying Cables for Distribution Network in MENA

Another approach is through verification type testing of cables. This is where the sample is taken out of large supplies or big projects randomly before installation. A Factory Acceptance Test, FAT, does not cover each test asked in standards due to the limited time of inspection. Therefore, independent verification type tests in big projects could be considered an assurance for cables being installed to identify any manufacturing defects, degraded products, or faulty practices.

Read more about the Power Distribution and Transmission and Download the Medium Voltage Guide here.

​Q2 - Renewable energy sources, especially solar power energy is booming around the world. Where do you see the MENA region is standing on this and what is the scope for Solar Photovoltaic (PV) cables?​

The Power and Energy sector is under immense reformation, adopting towards renewable energy with solar energy at centre. MENA region is blessed with abundant solar radiations and possibilities of large-scale solar projects. Countries in MENA have geared up and each have their own strong policies on renewables included in their national policies like Saudi 2030. Saudi Arabia has set target of 40 GW of Solar Energy by 2030. UAE will achieve 8.5 GW level by 2025 for Solar PV capacity. There are large projects under construction such as the 7 solar power plants in Saudi Arabia with capacity of 3.7GW, Manah Solar I and II in Oman. The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy is expected to generate 75% of Dubai's power from clean energy by 2050; with projects including Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, MBR, with projected capacity of 5GW by 2030 and DEWA’s Shams Dubai initiative. Private stakeholders such as developers, engineering, procurement, and construction companies, EPC, have an important role amid solar projects.

DEWA Solar Innovation DEWA Solar Innovation - Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

In order to ensure sustainability of this express developments, it is essential to focus on long-run quality of equipment in projects including Solar PV Cables. Solar cables are in demand and emerged as one of the main products ranges for cable manufacturers. The two widely used international standards for Solar Cables are BS EN 50618 and IEC 62930 with IEC having some additional testing over EN standard. These cables must pass through numerous tests to qualify to use under direct sun exposure throughout the life in solar PV projects.

Solar PV Cables have various special tests such as UV and Weathering test, Ozone test, Thermal Endurance test, Damp Heat test related to operational conditions which is usually not performed on a regular electrical cable. Project owners, developers, and consultants should emphasise more on these aspects while specifying certified solar cables or approved cables in the projects.

Download Solar Photovoltaic Cables Guide to read more.

Q3 - How is the construction Industry developing in the region and what are the approaches for fire safety in relation to cables?

The construction industry in MENA is known for its rapid expansion in a short span of time. It is still expanding with new age architectural projects to create modern facilities. It includes commercial complexes, high-rise residential buildings, public places such as metro stations, malls, exhibition centres, sports complexes, community towns, or smart cities. Research has shown that the construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa, MENA, region will improve with growth of 4.1% in 2022. As for UAE, Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology, ESMA, implementation of regulations for low voltage cables and wires and the recent approval of a new Dubai Building Code is a positive development for the region. Few projects in other regions include the Line – Neom smart city in Saudi Arabia, Doha Metro blue line, Jubail island project in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, it is essential that the fire safety measure for these constructions is carefully considered.

Interestingly cables are procured and installed in numerous quantities for power and control applications in construction projects. These cables could be wires, flexible cords, Low Voltage, LV, power and control cables, fire resistant / fire alarm cables, data communication cables, etc. In a particular residential building, the quantity of cables used are in kilometres spanning from top to bottom and wiring to each corner of the building. So, when it comes to fire safety related to cables, the latest and stringent testing criteria shall be followed. The best approach is to specify third-party tested, certified and marked cables in the project design stage. Prevention is better than cure and it applies to all projects. Utilisation of non-compliant cable products for your projects is a very expensive risk, which can result in civil liabilities such as fire safety concern for consumers, and monetary damages from endangering lives of the consumers. As a contractor, it would be considered as the result of gross negligence, breach of contract and warranty, illegal violations of local and country building laws and regulations. Although you may be cutting costs by buying non-compliant cables for your projects, you are exposing yourself to legal or criminal action being taken against you.

Read More about the Construction and Electrical Installation and Download the Fire Testing and CPR Guide.

Q4 - What are some of the effects of Covid-19 pandemic in the MENA region when it comes to oil and gas industry and subsequent effect of it to the cable industry?

The oil and gas, O&G, industry in the region is affected due to a pandemic with some large projects cancelled or delayed. Nevertheless, there are new investments in the region for non-conventional products of O&G over crude oil or gas. The industry is recovering with advances and so is cable supply demand. BASEC supports the cable industry with various types of cable testing specific to application requirements including cable sheath oil resistant test, flame-retardant test, testing for new product developments such as multi-layer sheathed cables, Al-HDPE-PA, which is an alternative to lead sheathed cables, tests to check LSZH sheath properties for low smoke, zero halogens, and mechanical strength for anti-cracking, etc.

Sourcing and specifying cable that have been independently approved by a third party and display the mark of the chosen testing partner, such as BASEC, provides peace of mind that it has undergone the necessary stringent testing and certification processes in line with safety requirements. It is a mark of recognition that stands for quality, clarity and impartiality, to assure those specifying cables that the product is fit for purpose.

To discuss how third-party certification of cables can benefit your business, please contact the BASEC team today.