Inside Dubai's vast solar project leading clean energy drive

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park will slash CO2 emissions and help power 250,000 homes as part of efforts to safeguard the planet

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On a patch of land in the Dubai desert, solar powered panels are following the path of the sun to help the emirate reach its clean energy goals.

From sunrise to sunset, more than 2.5 million photovoltaic modules fitted with solar tracking technology rotate slowly to maximise the capture of sunlight.

On 10 sq km of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, The National toured the fifth phase of the mega project by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, which has a capacity of 900megawatts.

Once complete, this project will supply clean energy to more than 250,000 houses in Dubai and will result in the reduction of more than 1.1 million CO2 emissions annually
Omar Al Hassan, Shuaa Energy 3

Once complete, the project will help to supply clean energy to 250,000 homes in the city.

Omar Al Hassan is chief executive of Shuaa Energy 3, the company operating the scheme.

“Shuaa is honoured to play a key role in implementing the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 by executing and evolving the fifth phase of the solar park, which is a 900MW pv [photovoltaic] project,” he said.

“Once complete, this project will supply clean energy to more than 250,000 houses in Dubai and will result in the reduction of more than 1.1 million CO2 emissions annually.”

Production capacity of the first project in the fifth phase has already increased to 330MW from 300MW, due to the use of the latest photovoltaic technology by Nextracker, a US company specialising in solar power.

The second project of the phase is set to be complete in December this year and the third and final by December 2023.

What is solar tracking?

The technology, called TrueCapture, uses machine learning to track the path of the sun to maximise efficient energy capture, storage and transmission.

From sunrise to sunset, the modules rotate 120 degrees, starting east, then pointing straight up at noon, before ending their journey facing west.

The modules are bifacial, meaning they produce solar power from both sides of the panel, utilising ground-reflected light as well as direct sunlight.

In an industry where solar tracking technology has not significantly changed in 30 years, Marco Garcia, chief commercial officer at Nextracker, said artificial intelligence has helped "increase efficiency by up to 6 per cent".

In the past five years, innovation in technology, plant design and storage has also helped bring down the costs of energy production from $0.05 to $0.0135 per kilowatt per hour.

“It’s important to note that out here in the desert environment you have a very high albedo – which means the brightness of the ground, the reflectivity of the ground actually bounces the light back and hits the back side of the modules and produces extra energy,” he said.

“This is one of the largest solar facilities to date that uses bifacial modules and that’s an innovation we are very proud to be working on with Dewa, Shuaa Energy 3 and [our other partners].”

Robots to clean panels

To help boost energy production and module performance, the project has 2,662 robotic systems working through the night to clean the panels of any surface debris, including sand, water and dirt.

Each robot, which is attached to a row of solar modules, travels 1.2km in an hour using a dry brush to clean each panel.

It then returns to its starting dock to recharge. The process is repeated daily.

The MBR Solar Park is the world’s largest on a single site, with a total capacity of 5,000MW.

The fifth phase, with a total investment of Dh2.05 billion ($559 million), is 60 per cent complete.

The MBR Solar Park’s projects constitute one of the key pillars of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and the Dubai Net Zero Carbon Emissions Strategy, which aim to provide 75 per cent of Dubai’s total power capacity from clean energy sources by 2050.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 7:40 AM