Dubai has to invest $100m in solar panels to meet Expo target, experts say

Dubai’s Expo solar target means that it will need to install more than 10 times the capacity of Shanghai’s 4.7-megawatt solar array.

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Dubai needs to install US$100 million worth of solar panels to meet its renewable energy target for Expo 2020, according to industry experts.

Some 200,000 panels capable of producing up to 50 megawatts of electricity are needed to meet the emirate’s aim of meeting 50 per cent of the event’s operational power demand using on-site renewable energy sources, according to Access, a project development and advisory firm based in Dubai.

That puts the emirate on track to surpass its target of producing 1 per cent of its energy needs from solar power by 2020.

“Achieving that will not be an issue, and I think they will far exceed that,” said Vahid Fotuhi, the head of strategic advisory at Access. “If there are innovations like energy storage, you’d reach [between 2 and 4] per cent easily.”

Dubai’s Expo solar target means that it will need to install more than 10 times the capacity of Shanghai’s 4.7-megawatt solar array.

International competition to build that solar capacity will be intense; about 150 companies vied for contracts at Dubai’s first solar park, a relatively small 13MW plant.

The emirate ultimately plans to install 1,000 megawatts of solar energy at a centralised site, putting it in the league of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Morocco and other countries in the region with massive solar plans.

According to current plans, part of the solar power at Expo 2020 will be produced by a facade of panels criss-crossing the site, which spans 350,000 square metres or 900 American football fields.

The investment in on-site solar, should it be maintained after the expo, would ultimately save the emirate $10m in fuel costs over two decades, estimates Access, assuming a natural gas price of $5.5 per million British thermal units.

Meanwhile, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa), which is expected to issue a tender for a 100MW solar park in the first half of next year, said yesterday it had increased its annual budget for next year to Dh20.56 billion, up from Dh13.83bn for this year.

Of the 2014 budget, Dh7.05bn would be invested in new projects and purchases in areas such as clean coal, solar and smart grids, Dewa said.

In the next five years, Arabian Gulf countries are projected to invest $73bn to increase capacity and improve power transmission, including via smart grids, according to a report released yesterday by the consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

The global market for smart grids, which use information technology to allocate energy more efficiently, is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2017.