RAS AL KHAIMAH // The developer of a series of "solar islands" off the coast of RAK believes technology that uses the
sun's heat to power cooling systems could prove business alchemy in an emirate with an electricity shortage.
The Swiss company Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM) has formed a partnership with the RAK government known as CSEM-UAE, with the ultimate goal of developing polygeneration technology, using solar energy to power air-conditioning and desalination for drinking water.
Last August, CSEM-UAE shifted its focus from energy production to cooling. The technology is so far envisaged for use in malls and residential districts, where economies of scale could make it a viable prospect.
“Solar energy is still high-cost compared to the electricity that we can get from fuel,” said Dr Abdelhameed Kayal, the company’s chief executive.
"The more effective solution is to perceive the economic solution that can go rapidly in the market. This is what is guiding our
activity and how we are building our facility here. The idea is to cool the home and produce water for it to get the maximum out of it."
CSEM-UAE has taken its inspiration from the nearby Al Hamra Village, a residential area that uses 60 per cent of its electricity
for cooling, and Al Hamra mall, which needs about seven megawatts for cooling. The mall ran on generators for months before a 45mW gas-fired power plant opened in Al Ghail in April 2009.
“The solution is getting the economical size,” said Dr Kayal.
Producing the cooling for an apartment is still too expensive for solar but if you go to a higher scale, maybe a district or a big mall, we start to become competitive and it starts to make sense from an investment point of view.”
Work on the solar cooling units began last August. The first seven panels cover an area of 45 square metres and generate one tonne of refrigeration (TR), the equivalent of 3.5 kilowatts of electricity.
They are being used to cool one of the site’s portacabins.
"The cost for [installing cooling panels for] one portacabin is still high. We're talking in the region of Dh100,000, which is not
economical," said Dr Kayal. "It starts to be economical the bigger we go. Anything we want to develop comes at a cost, not just to show it works."
The process involves heating a series of tubbed panels to about 90°C. The water is then circulated in two streams through a chiller.
The colder water can be used in ordinary air conditioning units which would then only require electricity to power the fan, an energy saving of 95 per cent.
The hot water can be used in desalination processors to produce drinking water, saving up to 80 per cent of the electricity compared to current methods. The installations can last 20 years, and only require maintenance once or twice a year.
An installation on the roof of the Al Hamra mall at an estimated cost of Dh4 million would generate as much as 6mW, enough to cool at least 80 per cent of the building. This means it would pay for itself in six to seven years.
Ahmed al Naeem, the owner of the Al Naeem Mall, called for more government subsidies to help allay the cost of introducing the
technology. "It's a good idea but the problem is we have to invest," said Mr al Naeem, whose mall has been unable to open for two years as it is not connected to the grid.
“It’s a very hard market. If there was a government subsidy it would be better.”
CSEM-UAE is currently developing a series of solar-panelled “islands” off the coast of RAK that generate power from steam and pipe it to a turbine on shore.