UAE renewable energy projects bring the future into view

Renewable-energy projects worth billions of dirhams are making the leap from conception to construction to completion across the region. Shams 1 came online last year in Al Gharbia, and projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai should be up and running by 2017.

Wind turbines at the London Array project, the world's largest consented wind farm, a partnership between Dong Energy A/S, E.ON AG and Abu Dhabi-based Masdar. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
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The UAE is leading the Arabian Gulf region in renewables projects, driven by ambitious targets to diversify the energy mix in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Across the region, governments are undertaking these renewables projects to free up oil and gas for export and use in other industries, and to meet rising demand for power and water.

These plans, and the issues that underlie them, are sure to come up for discussion and analysis at the World Future Energy Summit, which runs tomorrow through Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.

The total value of renewables projects and master plans, either completed or under execution, in the GCC states is US$4.5 billion, split between $1bn for hydro projects (all of which are in Saudi Arabia) and $3.5bn for solar, according to figures from Meed Projects.

The UAE is currently the biggest renewables market in the GCC with $1bn worth of projects under execution or operational.

Looking ahead, the total value of projects and master plans due for award between now and 2025 is $162bn, with the biggest long-term market being Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait, Qatar and Oman also are undertaking important projects to produce clean energy.

“Usage of renewables would present multiple benefits to these countries, the highest ranking being the ability to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons,’’ said Abhay Bhargava, the regional head of energy and power systems at the consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

“Additional benefits are the potential to develop a local industry, freeing up of hydrocarbons for usage in industry or other applications like refining, employment benefits and industry development through the creation of a new industry.’’

In the UAE, Abu Dhabi is leading the renewables drive with a target to derive 7 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020. The capital is also home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the multilateral organisation set up in 2009 to promote renewables.

Abu Dhabi has also set up the green-energy firm Masdar, which is building a low-carbon, zero-waste city and has a number of renewable energy projects in the UAE and abroad.

Last year, Masdar and its partners – the French energy company Total and the Spanish energy-infrastructure company Abengoa – launched the 100-megawatt (MW) concentrated solar power (CSP) plant Shams 1 in the UAE’s Western Region, Al Gharbia.

Shams 1 generates enough electricity to power 20,000 homes in the UAE.

This is Masdar’s second solar plant, after launching a 10MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant to provide electricity to Masdar City, with excess power fed to the Abu Dhabi grid.

Masdar is awaiting approval from the Abu Dhabi Executive Council to go ahead with a 100MW solar PV plant in Abu Dhabi. Masdar might also build a 30MW wind farm on Sir Bani Yas island.

CSP plants produce power by concentrating sunlight, usually through mirrors that heat liquids and generate steam to run turbines for power generation. PV plants use solar panels, which convert sunlight directly to electricity.

“PV is a proven technology for investors and very quick to install,” said Gus Schellekens, Middle East sustainability leader, and Hannes Reinisch, senior manager for sustainability and renewables, at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“From a cost point of view, PV technologies have shown the largest reduction in overall installed cost, and can be developed to meet a particularly type of need, eg as a utility scale solar farm to deliver power during the day meeting peak demand in the UAE and more widely across the GCC,.

“You don’t build small CSP plants, you tend to build larger [50MW-plus] CSP plants. CSP also provides you with the opportunity for storage and as a result can fulfil a very different need to PV.’’

In addition to its local projects, Masdar has stakes in a number of renewable projects around the world, including the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the 630MW London Array.

Back in Abu Dhabi, the government-owned energy company Taqa is building a waste-to-energy power plant to convert 1 million tonnes of municipal solid waste into 100MW of power, with completion expected by 2016 or 2017.

In Dubai, the Government has announced plans to generate 5 per cent of its power from renewables by 2030. To meet these needs, the emirate is building the Dh10bn Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park, which is forecast to generate 1,000MW. The first project in the park is a 13MW solar PV plant, the biggest such facility in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa). First Solar, the biggest US-solar panel manufacturer, built the facility, which is to be followed by a 100MW solar plant.

“We floated the tender to assign advisers and consultants. We expect to go to the market in the second quarter of 2014 to get the bids,’’ for the 100MW plant, said Waleed Salman, Dewa’s executive vice president for strategy and business development

The plant is being built in partnership with the private sector as an independent power plant project, with an expected private sector stake of 49 per cent. Completion is expected by 2017.

In the park, there will also be a research and development centre and an innovation centre, as part of plans to allow manufacturers of solar panels to test their products.

“We look at this programme as a major programme toward implementing renewable energy in the region in an economic way,’’ Mr Salman said. “We are building the road map to it. Part of it will be the test facility that will enable all the manufacturers to come and put their small units, connect them to the grid to see the behaviour and performance of their panels on that site.’’

Dubai is also looking at waste-to-energy and will assess its economic feasibility, he said.

Dubai wants not just to generate power from solar, but also to build an industry around it and will encourage manufacturers to set up facilities for this purpose.

“Manufacturers are waiting to see the projects, and if they see there is a demand, they will move. Looking at the region today, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, they all have announced that renewable projects will be a big part of their whole energy mix,’’ said Mr Salman. “When the manufacturers see this become a reality and there are projects on the ground, this will encourage them to start moving toward the region.’’