Dubai looks to rooftop solar power revolution

Dubai is finalising legislation that will enable property owners to feed solar power into the grid and may even allow them to make money from it.

SolarWorld, one of Germany's biggest panel producers, yesterday opened a showroom for its products at the Dubai Creek. Above, an employee at the the company's manufacturing plant in the German city of Freiberg. Sebastian Willnow / AFP
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Dubai is finalising legislation that will enable property owners to feed solar power into the grid and may even allow them to make money from it.

The Government last year unveiled plans for a 1,000-megawatt solar park, but it believes that small-scale applications are important for meeting its renewable energy targets.

"In the near future we will have a legislative environment that allows for grid-connected solar power. There will be different approaches for different scales," said Ivano Iannelli, the chief executive of the government-owned advisory company Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence.

"In the next 12 months, we will see a constant increase of solar infrastructure. Not only standalone facilities such as solar pumps, but to actually power our villas, our parks, our residential communities."

Industry sources say that encouraging the use of solar on rooftops is one of the pillars of Dubai's plans to bring the technology to the emirate. Photovoltaic panels can be mounted on roofs of residential properties, office buildings or industrial facilities, providing electricity and creating a surplus that can be fed into the grid.

In countries that derive solar energy from such small-scale sources, suppliers frequently receive a feed-in tariff from the government, a measure under consideration in Dubai.

"Feed-in tariffs are part of the different activities that are being looked upon," said Mr Iannelli. Such feed-in tariffs are usually above the market rate, making the installation of expensive solar panels profitable.

But tariffs will not be the only measure under consideration that will incentivise the use of solar panels, said Mr Iannelli.

Key to Dubai's efforts to introduce solar to the grid is the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa). Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, its chief executive, announced last July that the government utility was hiring a consultancy to help to establish a framework that incorporated solar into the energy mix.

Dubai's move towards solar energy is increasing its appeal to industry players.

Yesterday, SolarWorld, one of Germany's biggest panel producers, opened a showroom for its products at the Dubai Creek, where its panels will be sold by the local distributor PTL Solar.

The company welcomes plans for a rooftop solar programme.

"We hope it will be implemented," said Carsten Pattberg, the head of exports at SolarWorld. "[Rooftop solar] is our key business in Europe."

After decades of relying on fossil fuels, Dubai has now woken up to the potential of solar power.

The emirate seeks to generate 5 per cent of its electricity from the sun by 2030. Last year, the Dubai Supreme Council for Energy announced plans for the Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, and Dewa awarded the contract for the first array in October.

While solar is a clean source of energy, it is also an increasingly viable alternative to scarce natural gas.

Dubai's power plants run on natural gas, all of which is imported. During the summer months, when increased air conditioning causes a spike in electricity consumption, the emirate is forced to buy expensive liquefied natural gas, adding to costs. This added expense is passed on to consumers with a fuel surcharge.

At the same time, solar panels are getting cheaper, as the technology advances and fierce competition is driving down prices.

Abu Dhabi is also taking steps towards reducing the carbon footprint of its power generation and launched the Shams-1 solar plant in March. At 100MW, it is the largest solar installation in the Middle East, and the emirate plans to produce 7 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.