Solar power has a bright future

Technological progress is revitalising the idea that we can harness, retain and use the almost unimaginable amount of energy emitted by our Sun

The Innovation Centre at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. The fifth phase of the park – the world's largest single-site solar facility – was inaugurated this week. Pawan Singh / The National
Powered by automated translation

When it comes to humanity’s hunt to perfect a form of energy that is unlimited, clean and cheap, solar power has the potential to be a major power source but thus far has proven to be challenging. That is why this week’s news about the inauguration of the fifth phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai – the world's largest single-site solar facility – is so important.

It is not just that it is another important moment in the UAE’s energy transition, or that it demonstrates a tangible investment commitment to meeting ambitious green targets. Its significance lies in revitalising the idea that we can actually harness, retain and use the almost unimaginable amount of energy emitted by our Sun.

The dream of solar power is not new. In 1839, a young French scientist called Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect when he covered a platinum electrode in silver – this then produced an electric current when exposed to light. The first patents for a solar-powered engine were registered by another Frenchman, mathematician Augustin Mouchot, in the 1860s.

Robotic dry cleaning and bifacial panels, Dubai's solar park has grown bigger and cool

Aerial view of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park Phase 5 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

However, the means to realise this dream have lagged behind humanity’s ambition to avail of an energy source that is all around us. Until recently, the technology was not available to realistically capture, store and transmit enough solar-generated power to run infrastructure, businesses and homes. In Dubai however, technical innovations have led to the creation of an advanced solar park that uses millions of photovoltaic solar panels that rotate to track the Sun, that can generate power from ground-reflected light and that are cleaned of sand every day by robots.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, as well reducing 6.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually when it is fully completed in 2030, is also fuelling green targets the likes of which few other nations have set. These include generating 25 per cent of Dubai’s energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050. Every such advance in technical know-how that the UAE makes in this field can inspire other countries and regions to make their own efforts more efficient.

It is undeniable that tangible progress is being made. Systems such as thermal energy storage, for example, are coming into their own as a reliable and efficient way to retain solar power. However, these technological strides are not just confined to Earth. Last week it was reported that scientists from the California Institute of Technology beamed solar power back from space using technology placed in high orbit in January.

The promise of solar power is immense, and humanity is moving closer to understanding and tapping into this limitless reservoir of cosmic energy. However, that does not mean a ‘eureka’ moment will reverse the decades of environmental damage that is now threatening communities and ecosystems across the world. Solar will play a critical role in the green energy revolution but it will do so hand in hand with other forms of power, such as hydrogen, wind and hydroelectricity. It will also co-exist with fossil fuels in the medium-term as the transition takes place. But it is clear that the future of solar power is bright.

Published: June 20, 2023, 3:00 AM