Dh12bn solar plant for Dubai

Emirate hopes ambitious 48 square kilometre facility in Seih Al Dahal will account for 5 per cent of its energy sector by 2030.

Vice president Mohammed Bin Rashid launches the " Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park " which will cost AED 12 billion

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DUBAI // The emirate is planning a multi-billion-dirham solar energy park to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and decrease its carbon footprint, officials announced yesterday.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park will be built in phases over the next two decades, aiming to reach a capacity output of 1,000 megawatts (MW) by 2030.

The launch event in Dubai yesterday was attended by Sheikh Mohammed, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, after whom the park has been named.

The facility will be located in Seih Al Dahal, 30 kilometres southeast of Dubai and will take up approximately 48 square kilometres of space.

"We have a plan to diversify the energy [sector] in Dubai and to increase solar power to 1 per cent by 2020 and 5 per cent by 2030," said Saeed Al Tayer, the vice chairman of the Supreme Council of Energy.

Dubai produces 4.5MW of solar power in private, small-scale systems. These systems use photovoltaic (PV) technology, which converts sunlight into electricity.

The new solar park will utilise solar PV as well as another technology known as concentrated solar power, in which sunlight is reflected from large rows of mirrors on to a smaller area where the sun's heat is collected and then used to produce energy.

The details of how the emirate hopes to increase its output from 4.5MW to 1,000MW, and exactly who would foot the Dh12 billion construction bill for the facility, have yet to be announced.

"We are going to award a contract to an international consultant where they will submit a road map of how to get there," said Mr Al Tayer, who is also the managing director and chief executive of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa).

The consultant will advise on how to connect the new solar capacity to the electricity grid and on how to encourage investment.

"From an economic point of view, solar energy needs a contribution," said Nejib Zaafrani, the Secretary General and chief executive of the Supreme Council of Energy.

Ways to encourage investment in solar projects could include establishing preferential tariffs or providing compensation to renewable-energy producers. The introduction of such measures, also known as feed-in-tariffs, has been instrumental in establishing Germany and Spain among the world's leading countries in clean energy.

Mr Al Tayer and Mr Zaafrani said feed-in-tariffs were being considered as one option, but the matter needed further study.

The project will begin with the establishment of a 10MW solar plant. This facility will use PV technology and will feed electricity to the grid. Work has already started on the project, which should cost about Dh120 million.

Consultants have already been selected, and a tender to construct the facility should be out in summer this year. The project is expected to be operational at the end of 2013.

"The first 10MW ... is financed 100 per cent by the Supreme Council of Energy in Dubai," said Mr Zaafrani. "For future projects, to reach one gigawatt, we are working on many fronts."

While solar energy plants have the advantage of not releasing greenhouse gases - and are thus touted as eco-friendly alternatives to plants that burn fossil fuels - they are more expensive to build.

The good news is, because of advances in technology and an increase in use, prices have been falling. Mr Al Tayer said that in 2004, it cost 120 fils to produce a kilowatt of electricity using solar technology, but that the cost is now 70 fils.

"We hope that in future we will witness more decreases in price," he said.

Sami Khoreibi, the chief executive of Enviromena Power Systems, an Abu Dhabi company that builds solar photovoltaic systems, said the launch of the project was a step in the right direction.

"It is fantastic. It is another market place for sustainable energy in the Middle East," he said. "We will be very interested in the timing of these projects."