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Harnessing the full power of the sun and more

Dubai’s push with world’s largest concentrated solar power station makes this clear

Gulf News

Congratulations to the UAE and Dubai for a great leap forward to provide clean solar energy for development and save hydrocarbon resources for exports.

Dubai in a couple of years will not only have the next tallest building in the world but also the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) station to generate 700MW of electricity. The project — recently awarded to a consortium of Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and China’s Shanghai Electric — is based on independent power producer (IPP) model. It is guaranteed to achieve the lowest cost price of energy of 7.3 cents (27 fils) per kilowatt-hour and would be completed towards the end of 2020.

The project will use a 260 metre high solar tower option, where mirror reflectors concentrate the sun’s energy on a single point on top to heat the fluid medium of molten salt used instantly to raise steam for power generation. Or to be stored for later generation when the sun goes down.

The project is in line with the implementation of Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050, with the aim of 75 per cent of the emirate’s energy to come from clean sources. The intermediate targets are for 7 per cent by 2020 and 25 per cent by 2030. The strategy’s first operation began in 2013 and is projected to generate 1,000- and 5,000MW of solar electricity by 2020 and 2030, respectively in line with the 2050 strategy.

The plans are not just for hardware, as there is an allocation of Dh500 million for research and development works in the field of smart networks and improved energy efficiency.

The project is supported at the highest level of government, and with a clear mandate towards the aims of the 2050 strategy.

Globally, CSP plants have moved from a few MWs in 1984 to 4,862MW by 2016. Spain is a leader in this field with scores of CSP plants and has a total capacity of 2,300MW. The largest plant so far is the Ivanapah Solar Power Facility in California at 392MW and the UAEs Shams Power Station at 100MW, which started operations in Abu Dhabi in 2013. It should be used as a training ground for the new project in Dubai.

Although CSP still represents a small percentage of solar electricity capacity (2 per cent in 2015), it is more suitable in areas with very limited cloud cover. Such is the case in Dubai and other desert locations. Solar power generation based on Photovoltaic (PV) is more widely spread and currently has a worldwide capacity of 303GW.

World’s energy needs

The reason for this is that PV converts light and not heat into electricity and therefore does not require intense solar density as the case with CSP. At the same time the drastic reduction of cost of solar panels has worked its way in raising PV contribution.

The debate goes on whether PV or CSP produces cheaper electricity. Many favour PV but the issue remains site-specific. A study by the IEA “found that concentrated solar power could account for up to 25 per cent of the world’s energy needs by 2050”, based on acknowledged technology improvements that “would result in a drastic price decrease by 2050”.

Talking about big projects should not make us forget the importance and contribution of the small applications. Shams Dubai initiative, which aims to encourage building owners to place solar panels on roofs, is aiming to have all buildings this way by 2030.

As part of the same initiative, Dewa is installing solar panels on the roofs of 640 villas in Hatta, which will be completed in February 2018. The incentive is excellent as Dewa will not charge for a full year and later would deduct the solar generated power from the normal electricity bill.

This is a good pilot project which would go a long way when more and more houses join the scheme across the country.

Sharjah is using solar power for street lighting and recently completed the installation of 100 lampposts in Khorfakkan to bring the total in the to more than 1,200. These projects not only conserve energy but solve logistical problems of supply as well.

Let the sun shine on all the countries of our region ... and let there be more solar power.

The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.

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