Solar Technologies cools down the pace

The UAE may one day become a dynamic centre for manufacturing solar panels, but the future is not now. According to this article, firms in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have postponed plans to manufacture thin film products here.

In 2008, Solar Technologies unveiled plans to produce flexible solar panels that could be fitted into roofs, skylights and façades to generate energy for buildings. But construction has still not begun, the company acknowledged, citing the economic situation. It nonetheless stressed its long term ambitions for a plant here remained in place.

Similarly, Masdar, the Abu Dhabi clean-energy company, was planning to break ground on a thin film plant in the emirate but this has also been delayed, citing a lack of government support. Through its subsidiary Masdar PV, it is already producing the technology at a plant in Germany.

The news that funding may be tight for these firms isn't that surprising, given the global credit crunch. Even Masdar, seen as having one of the deepest pockets of any clean-tech investor, can't be everywhere at once, despite outlining an ambitious strategy for expansion last month.

There is also the question as to whether there is enough demand during the downturn for solar panels, which require high upfront costs and often require more than five years to pay for themselves.

Clean energy, for all the hype, has a host of roadblocks to clear before it becomes mainstream, and that's not so easy to accomplish during one of the worst global downturns in decades. But the UAE nonetheless has a fighting chance as a manufacturing hub, thanks to its peg with the dollar, meaning lower costs compared with plants in Europe, and the goals it has set for itself regarding renewable energy.