Total seeks more solar energy deals with Masdar

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week:  French oil major Total wants to extend its partnership with Masdar to other solar projects in the region.

As the region's largest solar plant nears completion in Abu Dhabi, the French oil major Total wants to extend its partnership with Masdar to other solar projects in the region.

Shams-1, a joint venture between Masdar, Total and Spain's Abengoa, has started feeding electricity into the grid and will be fully operational in the coming months. The project could be a springboard for further French-Emirati joint ventures, Jean-Marc Otero Del Val, the vice president of Total's new energy division, said yesterday.

"We have developed trust between the two organisations," he said. "Both Masdar and Total have agreed to deepen their relationship and explore other avenues of cooperation in the UAE and outside the UAE."

Masdar has expressed its interest in growing its overseas energy portfolio, and talks with Total are progressing, he said.

"Working groups will be in the very near future created based on opportunities which have already been exchanged between the two organisations," said Mr Otero Del Val.

Saudi Arabia, which is plagued by a shortage of conventional power and is forced to burn crude to meet its electricity needs, has the most ambitious solar targets in the Arabian Gulf.

The kingdom is developing a programme to build 41 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2032, at a cost of US$109 billion (Dh400.36bn).

Total is keen to tap Saudi Arabia's potential.

"Saudi has said they will issue their first tender, so our plans are ready," said Mr Otero Del Val.

Saudi Arabia and some other governments are looking to renewables not just as a means to increase their energy supply, but also to create employment for nationals who are having difficulties finding jobs.

The Saudi government has indicated that it prefers companies that can offer local content in their bids.

Total intends to produce plant components locally.

"When we are in a country being awarded a project, then we are building manufacturing plants. In Saudi, we do plan to have manufacturing facilities," said the company's vice president.

The French company's solar strategy centres around its controlling stake in the US photovoltaic panel producer SunPower, which it acquired last year.

Total will focus on photovoltaic, and not pursue growth with the concentrated solar power technology that features in Shams-1.

Mr Otero Del Val said the company is unfazed by Chinese panel manufacturers, who have pulled the rug from under many US or European competitors with relentless price cutting. Instead, Total has recently signed deals with two Chinese companies to build a manufacturing site in China to supply the local market.

While other oil companies such as Shell and BP have exited the solar business, Mr Otero Del Val is optimistic about Total's future in the sector.

"I can see why maybe in 1990 or 2000 you would have quit, but not today," he said.