Emirate’s new solar park to reduce gas dependence

The United Arab Emirates is a land synonymous with oil reserves, but there is perhaps a more powerful energy resource which has remained largely untapped till now: the sun

In a country with an enviable 3600 hours of sunshine per year – where temperatures regularly pass 50 on the mercury – the renewable power of the earth’s sun could help provide the clean and bounteous energy required to fuel a rapidly growing economy.

In keeping with the bold approach that has become its calling card, the UAE’s most populous emirate Dubai is in the throes of constructing a solar park of record-setting proportions.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, named after the emirate’s ambitious leader, is destined to be one of the largest renewable energy projects in the world and is already the region's largest facility of its kind.

The $3.3 billion multi-phase park, tilted to produce 3000 megawatts of energy a year when at full capacity in 2030, will be the jewel in the crown of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 to reduce dependence on finite resources – with power consumption currently relying overwhelmingly on natural gas at 90 per cent of total energy source.

And the park, owned and operated by the state-owned Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa), is already off to a good start.

Earlier this month, DEWA CEO and managing director Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer said the state-owned company was “on the right track” to achieving the solar park’s targets.

Al Tayer’s organisation’s efforts will be instrumental in Dubai achieving its energy strategy targets to reduce gas dependence to 71 per cent and generate 15 per cent of energy from solar power, seven per cent from clean coal and another seven per cent from nuclear power by 2030.

The targets aren’t easy but if there were any doubters out there, the completion and opening of the 13-megawatt first phase of the solar park shows the commitment and capability of those behind the project.

The 59-acre Dewa 13 Solar Plant, the size of 33 football fields, was completed in less than 30 weeks after ground was broken in March 2013. Situated 50 kilometres south of Dubai, in Seih Al Dahal, the power plant, constructed by US contractor First Solar, is already contributing 24 million kilowatts of clean energy to the emirate’s power grid each year.

Tenders for the 800-megawatt third phase of the project are currently being accepted and in January it was announced the 200-megawatt second phase of the plant, to open in 2017, would produce power costing just US5.84 cents per kilowatt-hour – about 20 per cent lower than any previous power purchase agreement.

First Solar, which supplies the park’s photovoltaic (PV) modules, recently opened a new Operations Center in Berlin that will provide remote monitoring and energy forecasting for PV assets across the EMEA region, which will include Dubai.

“Photovoltaic solar’s emergence as a mainstream power generation resource, particularly in competitive markets, has made professional and focused Operations and Maintenance (O&M) more relevant than ever before. PV plants are now recognised as high value assets; their owners are focused on ensuring that they are optimised to reliably deliver the energy necessary to ensure profitable returns to investors,” said Troy Lauterbach, First Solar’s Vice President for Global O&M.

Lauterbach’s comments highlight just how important it is for projects to be economically, as well environmentally, sustainable. About half the estimated $35 million cost of the first phase was also spent inside the UAE.

And this is a point DEWA is hoping to underscore – the benefits of cleaner energy don’t just stop with the environment.