The World

Last week Abu Dhabi, the home to the Emir and most of the UAE’s oil wealth, celebrated the opening of the largest concentrated solar power plant on Earth.

Shams 1, as the plant is called, is a development of 258,048 parabolic trough mirrors that produce enough energy to power 20,000 homes.

The one-square-mile plant sits about 70 miles outside of Abu Dhabi, and took only two years to build.

Why does an oil-rich country like the UAE need a solar power plant? To free up more oil to export.

Shams 1 CSP will allow the country to sell more of their fossil fuels abroad, especially to oil-hungry countries like China.

Shams 1 is actually a joint venture between two European sustainable energy companies and the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, also known as Masdar, the developer of the eponymous “sustainable city” outside of Abu Dhabi. It’s part of Masdar’s plan to make the UAE a clean-energy powerhouse over the next decade–other investments include a wind farm in the Seychelles and a wind turbine plant in Finland.

It’s an interesting reversal of normal thinking about renewable energy technology: rather than being driven by a social or moral obligation to develop clean energy, next-generation technologies are actually emerging as a way to increase the export of crude oil and gas from those lucky countries that have it.