Abu Dhabi is committed to sourcing 7 per cent of its power from renewable sources within nine years, and wind has unexpectedly become a contributor. The Gulf is not a windy region, but wind turbines makers are developing specialised blades to generate more energy from the light breezes the region receives.
"We are under some pressure because the Government has announced the 7 per cent target by 2020, so we have to move in big steps," said Dr Olaf Goebel, the head of engineering at Masdar’s power division who confirmed the proposal yesterday on the sidelines of a renewable energy presentation.
Masdar, which is wholly owned by Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, has been unofficially tasked with the responsibility of achieving the emirate’s ambitious target.
It already has two commercial-sized renewable plants in the works, Concentrating Solar Power Shams 1 and Nour 1, which are both 100 megawatts concentrated solar energy projects. The wind power plant under consideration would be Masdar’s first venture into that form of renewable energy apart from a much smaller farm planned for Sir Bani Yas Island in the Western Region.
The wind farm, which is still at the early stages of assessment, would produce 100 MW. "For wind energy, 100 MW, it’s nothing," said Dr Goebel. "You can build 300 MW wind farm plants."
The site Masdar is evaluating near the Saudi border has stronger winds than the island, said Dr Goebel. Two industry executives familiar with the project said the proposed site was near the coastal town of Silah.
"We have reasons to assume that the wind is higher from certain measurements," Dr Goebel said, adding that in an "optimum case" scenario, Masdar would award a contract as early as January and a wind farm would begin sending power to the grid two years later.
That will depend on the results of a pre-feasibility study set to be completed by a team at Masdar in the next six weeks.
"If you’ve got the right land, right wind, and you’ve got a grid connection, as long as they’re there, why not?" said Adrian Wood, the regional head for renewable energy at Siemens, the German conglomerate.
Wind power is more challenging to develop in the GCC than solar power. "In the UAE, it’s very limited because of the nature of the wind. There are maybe a few days where there’s a lot of wind but not in general," said Dr Walid Fayad, a partner at the consultancy Booz & Company, which has done work with Masdar on other projects. "That’s why on a macro level, in the energy mix, wind will not be a big share."
Assuming an average cost of $2m to install each megawatt of wind power, the proposed plant would take at least $200m to build, according to Masdar’s estimates.
Last month Masdar and its partners in its solar plant Shams 1 – France’s Total and Spain’s Abengoa Solar – sealed a $600m bank loan. The financing relies on a "green payment" where the Government will make up for the difference between the cost of solar power and the grid price.
The proposed wind farm will require a similar subsidy to move forward, said Karim Nassif, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s in Dubai.
"That will be a monitor for how much it will attract capital markets and bank funding," said Mr Nassif. "Because it is wind energy, not solar power. It is the first wind turbines project of its kind."