UAE's solar ambitions burn brightly

Plans for the world's largest concentrated solar power plant symbolise Dubai's economic ambitions

Workers walk inside the Shams 1, Concentrated Solar power (CSP) plant, in al-Gharibiyah district on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, on March 17, 2013 during the inauguration of the facility. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi officially opened the world's largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, which cost $600 million to build and will provide electricity to 20,000 homes. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP PHOTO / MARWAN NAAMANI
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When the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) in June announced the record low bid of 9.45 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for its prospective 200 megawatts of concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, it was heralded as a milestone for the technology and the solar industry in general.

Not only would it produce a significant amount of electricity extremely cheaply, the plant would be able to store electricity after the sun went down for up to 15 hours, meaning it could be efficiently integrated into the country’s power grid.

Yesterday however Dewa and Dubai went one better; the utility said that the new CSP plant, representing the fourth phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, would instead have a capacity of 700MW, by far the largest of its kind in the world, with power being delivered at the even cheaper price of 7.3 cents per kWh.

CSP is fast emerging as a transformative renewable power technology, especially in the Middle East. The falling cost of equipment, together with ever-longer electricity storage periods, means that the technology is able to compete in many markets with traditional energy sources such as natural gas.

The UAE has pioneered the use of the technology, beginning in 2013 with Abu Dhabi’s 100MW Shams 1 solar plant, the region’s first utility scale solar project in the Middle East. Work is also currently underway on a 150MW CSP plant in Morocco, while a proposed scheme in Tunisia promising to leverage the technology to export gigawatts of power to Europe via undersea cables.

Dewa’s new 700MW plant, to be built by Saudi Arabia's Acwa Power and China's Shanghai Power at the cost of Dh14 billion, is a major step in the Dubai’s ambition to generate 25 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, eventually growing to 75 per cent by 2050.

There are few more potent symbols of the UAE’s efforts to transform its economy than the country’s embrace of solar power. Once viewed as solely reliant on oil, pioneering projects such as Abu Dhabi’s Shams and Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park symbolise the country’s fearless embrace of the new realities of a future where fossil fuels will play an ever-diminishing role.