Dubai looks at 'buy back' solar plan

Off-grid energy generated from solar panels on the roofs of houses could be purchased and fed into main supply grid.

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DUBAI // A plan to buy back power generated from solar panels on the roofs of houses and office buildings is being considered by utility bosses.

A team of consultants has been appointed by Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (Dewa) to look at the feasibility of such a scheme.

"They are looking at technical specifications, code of connection and commercial aspects," said Saeed Al Tayer, the chief executive of Dewa. "It's still too early to say when it will be implemented."

It is the first time that Dewa has considered linking the growing off-grid solar energy market into the main electricity supply.

Last year it carried out a study to work out how much solar power is being produced outside the grid, and found that businesses and other private owners were producing around five megawatts.

Each solar panel, which measures about one square metre, produces about 130 watts - so five megawatts translates to almost 40,000 panels.

It is not clear whether those solar panels are only in Dubai, or across the whole country. At present none of that power is fed into the main grid.

The concept of buying power produced by privately owned solar panels is popular in more than 50 countries, including the European Union, and is known as a feed-in tariff. However, solar experts say other measures, like government subsidies or preferential rates on bank loans, could similarly stimulate the solar industry in Dubai.

"You don't necessarily need a feed-in tariff to drive the solar energy market," said Karel de Winter, the division manager for supplier Alsa Solar Systems.

"What is needed is a long-term financing mechanism, to allow the clients to spread the costs out over the longer term. "

Roof-top solar panels for a home can cost up to US$10,000 (Dh36,700) to install, and take 15 years to pay for themselves.

The study into the feasibility of feeding into the grid is being carried out by Belgium-based Tractebel.

A second contract was awarded last week to German firm ILF Consulting, for the initial stages of a huge 1,000 megawatt solar park in Dubai, worth Dh11.5billion, which will supply 5 per cent of the UAE's power needs by 2030.

The contract will see the first 10 megawatts, or about 77,000 solar panels, installed and connected to the grid by the middle of next year.