Thousands of mirrors for concentrating solar power plant arrive in Abu Dhabi

About a quarter of a million mirrors that will harness sunlight at Abu Dhabi’s Shams-1 solar thermal project have arrived in the emirate, and installation will start within the next two weeks.

The 100 megawatt concentrating solar power (CSP) plant being built near Medinat Zayed in the western desert will pump its first "green electrons" into the Abu Dhabi power grid in the summer of next year, said Arnaud Chaperon(CK), the vice president of electricity and renewable energies of the French energy group Total(CK), a partner in the project. "We are on schedule. The work is going well," he said on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Masdar(CK), the Abu Dhabi government’s clean energy company, signed a deal last year with Total and the Spanish company Abengoa Solar(CK) for the US$600 million (Dh2.2 billion) development, which will be the GCC’s largest solar thermal plant. Total is providing expertise in project management as well as in optimising the performance of the power plant, which will supplement its intake of sunlight with a small volume of gas.

The gas will allow the temperature of the steam generated in the plant to be boosted to 500 degrees Celsius from the 380 degrees currently possible with solar input alone. The higher temperature allows the steam to drive turbines more efficiently, Mr Chaperon said. The gas can also be used to maintain the plant’s power output during cloudy periods, he added.

When completed, the Shams-1 plant will cover 250 hectares of land – equivalent to 285 football fields – with reflective parabolic troughs surrounding a central power generation unit containing boilers and turbines. Under Abengoa’s design, the mirrors in the ground-mounted sun-tracking troughs will focus sunlight onto a pipe containing a special oil that can be heated to high temperatures without breaking down. About 170 kilometres of pipe will be needed to connect up all the mirrors and carry heat to the boilers.

The solar thermal plant will potentially supply enough electricity to supply the power needs of 20,000 air-conditioned Emirati-style homes. Total chose solar power as one of two care areas of renewable energy technology to include in the company’s four-year-old gas, power and energy division. That is because the firm, best known as one of Europe’s biggest petroleum companies, has chemicals affiliates with expertise in the materials used to make photovoltaic (PV) cells – another form of solar-power technology distinct from CSP.

PV converts sunlight directly into electricity, using semiconductors similar to those found in computers. Total plans to bid on Masdar’s next utility-scale solar project, which will be a PV array likely to be located near Al Ain, said Mr Chaperon. He has high hopes of winning the contract due to Total’s strong historic relationship with Abu Dhabi, where the company has been pumping oil for more than seven decades from offshore and onshore concessions. More recently, it has teamed up with Mubadala Development(CK), the Abu Dhabi government’s strategic investment company and the direct owner of Masdar, as a member of the Dolphin Energy(CK) gas production and pipeline consortium, which distributes Qatari gas to customers in the UAE and Oman.

By Tamsin Carlisle,