UAE Could Be the Next Concentrated Solar Power Leader

Shams 1 plant puts UAE into third place for concentrated solar power
Published: Wed 11 Jun 2014

Masdar’s Shams I concentrated solar power plant in Abu Dhabi has moved the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to third place amongst the world’s nations in both 2013 concentrated solar power technology investment and total concentrated solar power capacity.

The UAE now ranks only behind Spain and the US in total concentrated solar power generation; India and China round out the world’s top five. The rankings were recently revealed in a report by REN21, an international multi-policy stakeholder network that promotes a rapid global transition to renewable energy.

Solar to boost economic activity

According to the report, the concentrated solar power plant in Abu Dhabi’s western region is one reason why concentrated solar power’s growth in emerging markets almost tripled during 2013. Sham 1 includes 258,048 mirrors that cover about 628,000 square meters. The parabolic mirror design had been proven efficient at the Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert over the past two decades.

All together, Sham 1’s parabolic array concentrated heat produces 100 MW. Shams 1 took nearly three years to build and cost US$600 million. The gargantuan array already has an annual output of 210 gigawatt-hours.

The Shams 1 is located about 120 kilometers southwest of UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi. Now incorporated into the existing gas and power grids there, UAE hopes the power array will help boost economic activity in the western, relatively underdeveloped part of the country.

Investment is accelerating

Although Spain and the US are still very strong market leaders in concentrated solar power, investment in this technology is accelerating rapidly in regions that receive high amounts of daily sunshine or in high direct normal irradiation (DNI).

Since 2004, global concentrated solar power capacity has increased 10-fold, and last year surged 36% to a total of 3.4GW of energy generated.

While this industry continues to grow, it is also marked by the use of a more standardised design. CSP plants in the past decade have incorporated several designs and technologies over the past years, but in 2013, all newly constructed concentrated solar power plants used the parabolic trough design, which is in use by Shams 1.

Overall trends in the industry are favoring larger plants to take advantage of economies of scale, as in the case of the Shams 1 plant, one of the largest concentrated solar power plants worldwide.

A world leader

“We’re pleased to see how high the UAE ranks worldwide in renewable energy generation, given the country’s commitment to sourcing more sources of secure and safe energy,” said Yousif Al Ali, general manager of Shams 1 Power Company. “And the numbers bear fruit: since its launch, Shams 1 has been generating enough power to electrify 20,000 homes in the UAE and displaces 175,000 tons of carbon annually.”

In ten years time the country plans on building up its parabolic trough systems to a capacity of 1.5 GW. If it does, the small country could become the world leader in concentrated solar power. Currently, the US holds that title, followed by Spain.

But, Shams 1 is just the beginning. Despite its oil-rich land, the UAE seems to be pretty serious about going green.