Sun is shining on prospects for concentrating solar power

The days when it was cost-prohibitive to even consider building large-scale concentrating solar power projects are abating as prices continue to decline, the Emirates Solar Industry Association said.

And with costs for photovoltaic solar energy generating projects more than halved in recent years, the time is ripe for Middle East countries such as the UAE to meet the emerging technology head on, said Adrian Wood, marketing and communication director of ESIA.

"Solar power is a relatively new but fast growing market globally. Solar power, photovoltaic and solar thermal, has shown tremendous growth and cost reductions over the last five years," said Wood, who is also regional director.

Declining costs are leading to a global surge in new solar energy projects to 67 GW last year, up from 7GW in 2006. Sun is shining on prospects for solar power

As costs continue to come down for large-scale operations, the UAE must invest, according to ESIA

The UAE is at the forefront of new solar energy projects and Wood pointed out that many Mena countries have stated renewable energy targets likely to include solar projects worth billions of dollars over the next ten years.

"However, if the projects are postponed or delayed, or technology advancements-cost drivers do not follow the patterns estimated today, such figures will change significantly," he told Gulf News.

Largest in the world

Eager not to miss an opportunity, Abu Dhabi is expected to open its new Shams 1 concentrated solar thermal power plant by the end of the year.

"Construction began during [the third quarter] of 2010," Yousuf Al Ali, general manager of Shams Power Company, told Gulf News in March.

"The project’s cost is $600 million [Dh2.2 billion] and with its completion, it will be the largest solar project in the world.

"Once completed, Shams 1 will be one of the largest concentrated solar power [CSP] plants in the world, extending over 2.5 square kilometres with a capacity of approximately 100MW and a solar field consisting of 768 parabolic trough collectors."

The project is a joint venture between Masdar (60 per cent), Total (20 per cent) and Abengoa (20 per cent).

Dubai, meanwhile, announced in January that it is building the new Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park at a cost of Dh12 billion with its first phase to produce power by the fourth quarter of next year.

The project is being implemented by the Supreme Council of Energy (SCE) in Dubai and will be operated by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) which expects to produce 10MW of power when the first phase opens on a 48-square-kilometre area at Seih Al Dahal. Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of Dewa and Deputy-Chairman of the SCE, noted that he expects future private investment but said the initial phase of the solar project would be fully government funded.

"The SCE is meeting its responsibility to continue our relentless pursuit to provide clean energy solutions to efficiently meet our future requirements and develop a reduced carbon-footprint economy," he said.

ESIA believes in the benefit of producing added power capacity from solar to complement existing sources.

"Depending on size of installed solar power, solar power will influence the dependency of the UAE on oil or gas needed for electricity generation," Wood said.

"It will also enable the UAE to benefit from opportunity cost of fuels.

"The first priority will no doubt be to meet its own internal and domestic power demand.

"However, after this, exporting oil saved due to the use of solar power to the world market is a factor to drive the use of solar energy.

"Alternatively, the concept of excess power generated from solar being exported onto the Middle East grid or even to other markets is a not so distant possibility."