Solar dawn

  • Share via facebook
  • Tweet this
  • Bookmark and Share

The UAE’s Shams 1 officially opened on the 17th March, marking the start of operations at the 100 MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. Whilst it might be tending towards hyperbole to see this as the landmark birth of utility-scale solar developments in the region, there’s no arguing with the size and ambition of the project.

As our guide during a tour of the site tells us, solar power plants are all about numbers, and Shams certainly boasts some impressive figures. Through its 258,048 mirrors, arranged in 768 units of solar collectors, the system creates the electricity needed to provide for some 20,000 homes. The plant, spread over a site of around 2.5km2 , is now the world’s largest CSP plant in operation, and amounts to around 10% of total CSP capacity around the globe.

On-site

The developers have said that the plant, located 120km from Abu Dhabi and 6km from Madinat Zayed, was sited in the emirate’s Western Region as a continuance of the area’s central importance to the energy sector. Home to the lion’s share of the UAE’s hydrocarbon reserves, the region is now set to become a focal point for renewable energy and in future will also play host to the Barakah nuclear development. Of course, the region also benefits from one of the world’s highest levels of solar irradiation – a rather more prosaic, though no less important consideration when developing a new solar plant.

A 7 metre wall, partially made up of concrete and topped with a mesh, protects the site from the worst of the desert winds that would otherwise dump quantities of dust and sand over the plant’s mirrors. The prevalence of dust in the atmosphere has been one of the key talking points about the development – with critics suggesting that excessive amounts could unduly impact on plant efficiency. The developers have combated this potential effect with twice-weekly cleaning of the mirrors using specially designed trucks that keep the reflectors at their cleanest and most efficient. At the same time, we were told that tests done early in development showed that mirrors left to the elements for three weeks still had a reflecting rating of 91% - still higher than the 85% below which performance starts to be substantially affected. It does seem that the ‘dust issue’ may well be under control.

Standing inside the plant, the scale of the project is very evident, as is the fairly intense heat radiating from the panels. Indeed, the operators say that when the plant is operational, with mirrors set to fully track the sun, it is not actually possible to walk around the site due to the high temperatures. The operation of the site sees the parabolic mirrors concentrate sunlight onto a central tube of heat transfer oil, heating the fluid to around a toasty 393 degrees Celsius. This fluid then circulates through the tubes – arranged in parallel loops – until it reaches a heat exchanger where water is turned into steam. The temperature of this steam is then boosted by onsite gas-powered heaters, which increase temperature to 540 degrees Celsius.

The presence of gas heaters on-site is an important part of the process, automatically compensating for temperature loss on days with high cloud-cover or low solar irradiation, and boosting steam to an optimal temperature for power generation. Without this gas boost, plant engineers said that plant output from solar alone would stand at around 53 – 56 MW – equating to around 55% of total plant output from the solar field. The gas heaters also allow for the site to be run at night – particularly useful during summer spikes in power demand.

Article continued on next page

Related:
Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: Hisham

I wish the government would force developers of new or uncompleted towers to use solar cell on the face of buildings instead of glass. It is such a waste to see a tower with hundreds of unused square meters of surface which could easily be used to make the same tower self-sustainable. Yes, it does cost a little more than using glass, but the benefits on the long term outweigh the costs as energy costs are reduced significantly. Time for long-term thinking!

Posted by: Moe Badawi

This is the kind of advancements we want to see all around the world. It reduces our reliance on fossil fuel which is bound to run out in the near future. As the world's population increases and large nations like China become wealthier and their consumption of energy increases dramatically, we actually have to press on hard and fast into the renewable energy sources. Countries like Egypt that has a large western desert completely unused, should focus on doing something like this around small communities, to reduce the need for energy transport. Egypt, the largest population in the Arab world, around 87 million people, now burns fossil fuel to generate 60% of its electricity, a crime in and of itself.

Enter the words above: Enter the numbers you hear:

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Saudi Arabia adds to oil power with new refineries

Saudi Arabia adds to oil power with new refineries

Two state-of-the-art plants set to redefine Gulf kingdom's role...

Focus: How low can the oil price fall?

Focus: How low can the oil price fall?

The startling fall in the oil price has renewed questions about...

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait shared zone tensions underlie oilfield closure

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait shared zone tensions underlie oilfield closure

Crude output from jointly-run offshore Khafji oilfield has been...

Most Popular
Most Discussed
  • 20
    Why Dubai should consider removing the rent cap

    Not even one comment supporting the author. I wonder if he is trying to create a bubble. more

    Monday, 24 November 2014 2:25 PM - Anil
  • 14
    Life sentence for London hammer attacker

    The death sentence is a free pass. The purpose of punishment has always been to provide a lesson for misbehaving. No one learns a lesson by dying. Life... more

    Friday, 21 November 2014 2:02 PM - LordLands
  • 5
    Is this the end of F1?

    Compare this to WEC and you see a stark difference. The 'formula' for WEC is much more wider and more accomodating. They have been runnning hybrids for... more

    Monday, 24 November 2014 2:30 PM - Vincent