Abu Dhabi to have world’s largest solar plant

Haseeb Haider
Filed on June 11, 2010

ABU DHABI — A consortium of three renewable energy companies will soon start construction on the world’s largest $600 million solar thermal power project to generate 100 megawatts in Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi’s western region.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, or Masdar, a renewable energy unit of government-owned Mubadala, has launched the Shams 1 project in partnership with France’s Total and Spain’s Abengoa.

At a high-profile briefing in the capital on Wednesday attended business executives and international media, Masdar Chief Executive Officer Dr Sultan Al Jaber said the flagship project is part of Abu Dhabi’s target to generate seven per cent of electricity from clean energy sources by 2020.

Abu Dhabi’s current energy generation capacity is eight gigawatts, which is forecast to grow to 20 gigawatts by the end of the decade.

The concentrated solar power plant will generate enough electricity to light 20,000 houses and offset the equivalent of 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, Dr Al Jaber said.

A special purpose vehicle company will own the project, with a 60 per cent majority share owned by Masdar, and the remaining 40 per cent to be equally shared by Total and Abengoa.

The new company will sell electricity to the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company under an agreement which will have a component of a green tariff, enabling it to receive government compensation on the difference between average generation costs in the industry with the actual cost of generation by the project.

International renewable Energy Agency Director-General Hélène Pelosse told reporters that the cost of generating power in similar projects varies between 15-25 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The plant will be followed by another two power generating facilities — Shams 2 and 3 — according to Masdar Power Project Manager Mohamed Al Zaabi.

He said Shams-1 will run as an independent power plant and will be completed in 24 months. It will start its commercial generation in the third quarter of 2013.

Abu Dhabi Regulation and Supervision Bureau Director-General Nick Carter said that demand for electricity in the emirate grew 11 per cent in 2009, while its electricity exports rose 16 per cent. He said that the project is timely to provide the required power generation capacity.

Shams 1 would qualify for carbon credits under the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism. This allows developing countries to sell emissions reduction from their energy-intensive industry to help rich countries offset their own contribution to climate change.

Al Zaabi said that the plant would have 768 parabolic trough collectors, to be supplied by Abengoa.

About the mechanism, he said sunlight reflected by mirrors will heat a coolant which generates high pressure steam that drives a conventional steam turbine.

It generates solar thermal electricity, which is an efficient, reliable and clean solution.

Dr Al Jaber termed the Shams 1 project a very important milestone, which will be the first utility scale, commercial solar power project in the UAE.

He said that the project will not only open the door for renewable energy projects in the UAE, but also for technology transfer.

No scaling back

Meanwhile, Dr Al Jaber stressed that Abu Dhabi will not scale back on its Masdar City project despite a review late last year.

“We are not in any circumstances or intention going to ‘scale up’ or ‘scale back,’” he remarked to a question, regarding the fate of the Masdar City project. “The vision for Masdar City remains the same, the vision has not changed,” he added.

He said that Masdar announced its ambitious strategy in 2006, in which the Masdar City project was a very important component.

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