Masdar in solar research initiative

New research facility launched to expedite development of technologies suited to region’s hot and dusty climate.

Masdar’s 10MW solar photovoltaic power plant. The company has announced plans to launch an in-house research facility to expedite the development of solar technologies. Andrew Henderson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Masdar and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have announced plans to launch an in-house research facility to expedite the development of solar technologies.

The Masdar Solar Hub will support Abu Dhabi’s efforts to achieve its ambitions for solar energy development and deployment through research and demonstration of solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and thermal energy storage technologies.

“The solar hub responds to the UAE’s ambition this year to get into a deeper level of innovation in clean and renewable energy, so what we’ve done is established a hub which will allow us to do research, development and demonstration,” said Dr Steve Griffiths, the executive director of institute initiatives at Masdar.

Masdar has already installed facilities for testing thermal energy and concentrated solar, where the sun’s rays are reflected at a tower to collect solar energy – technologies that were favoured in the past.

The industry has in recent years seen significant development in P V, or photovoltaic, technologies drive down the price of solar energy.

“The P V test field will be here by the end of 2015. We’re finishing up upgrades with partners,” Dr Griffiths said. “Everything is planned to be launched from now until 2016.

“What I’m excited about with P V technologies today is that Europe has done really well for the market’s evolution, and now we’re seeing other parts of the world, where there are more challenging environmental conditions, start to uptake renewable,” said Dr Griffiths, who has been at Masdar since 2010.

In general, the costs associated with generating electricity from solar power have dropped by 75 per cent over the past seven years, and this year global solar photovoltaic capacity is expected to grow by 25 per cent.

The major movement in solar, according to Dr Griffiths, is in P V technologies but the key is to make sure that certain kinds of P V panels withstand the UAE environment.

“You’re going to modules from manufacturers, which are intended to withstand for 25 years, but when you get to the practical reality in the UAE, we have very high temperatures, humid conditions, and a lot of dust,” the 40-year-old MIT graduate said.

Despite solar power’s increasing cost competitiveness and efficiency, Masdar Institute’s Research Centre for Renewable Energy Mapping and Assessment has shown from satellite data that Abu Dhabi receives significantly less direct sunlight than expected because of high levels of atmospheric dust and humidity.

Dr Griffiths said that because of these conditions it is important for a research facility based here to assess and monitor developments in these new technologies as they come to the market.

The Masdar Solar Hub will allow Masdar Institute, Masdar and leading organisations in solar power to advance demonstration-scale solar technology assessment in the region’s hot, dust-filled environment.

However, an equally pertinent purpose for the Solar Hub is to have businesses use the facility and develop their own technologies for the region.

“Collaborations are essential for a thriving innovation ecosystem, as they facilitate dialogue between industry leaders and government, and support the development of novel, game-changing technologies,” said Dr Ahmad Belhoul, the chief executive of Masdar.

“The Masdar Solar Hub is expected to become a successful catalyst for solar energy development in Abu Dhabi and across the region, while training human resources for Abu Dhabi’s energy sector.”

The centre will not only provide research, development, testing and evaluation, but also the certification of solar technologies and systems. It will also offer consulting and information services, leading to the practical and widespread implementation of solar energy solutions across Abu Dhabi.

“The Masdar Solar Hub will enable researchers to engage in significant development and testing, to create efficient solar technologies that can operate at maximum capacity in the region’s unfavourable climactic conditions,” said Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of Masdar Institute.