A question that gets asked a lot around here: why solar power is not that spread across the UAE. It seems logical to ask: the Sun is in abundance in the Middle East, and yet this country only plans to diversify its energy sources and get up to 24% of it from clean sources*. Our old friend, one of the brightest people we know and the Sun expert, Anthony Bassil, shed some light on the solar power. He also sketched the schemes for this post.
Solar energy harvested via photovoltaic panels can be classified into two main schemes: off- and on-grid. Off-grid, or stand alone system needs a large battery bank to store the collected energy, charge controllers and inverters to change from direct current to alternative current (AC/DC, and we are not on about ‘Rock or bust‘ here)
Such system is bulky, takes a fair bit of space and demands extreme safety measures. Standards require the place where batteries are stored to be properly ventilated. As battery emits hydrogen, every schoolboy knows, it behaves funny when it meets with oxygen (yes, b-o-o-m!) This makes the off-grid solar installation costs go up and lead to longer return on invenstment (ROI) period.
However the costs even for the off-grid system is now shrinking. A decade ago, a user would pay about ten USD per kW, and now — only around five. Yet, on-grid installation offers even higher savings (2.4 USD/kW) and estimated 3-5 years ROI.
Recent changes in the energy policies in Dubai, allowed investors to look at the on-grid solutions. It is a leaner installation that needs no batteries, and its core advantage is in the ability of a user to sell the unused energy back to the grid. Say, your warehouse consumes a smaller amount of energy during the night, and therefore gives unused electricity back to the network.
A growing number of clients are expressing interest in locating the panels on the roofs of their buildings, both new and retrofit. Why not? We have probably 350 days of uninterrupted sunlight each year. New regulations allowed investors to look differently at this renewable source of energy. Other sources are limited by the climate: moderate winds and waves along the UAE coast would not allow to harvest sufficient amounts of energy. Off-shore wind turbines are possible, but then again you need to transport energy from far away in the sea.
This country is looking forward the having so called solar farms.
Concentrated solar plants would allow to collect and transform to electricity enormous amounts of sunlight. Thus, Abu Dhabi based Shams 1 launched in 2013 is the largest solar thermal power plant in the Middle East. It is built to generate 100MW of energy. Unlike photovoltaic principle (energy is created due to chemical reaction), solar thermal stations heat water and then convert it to electricity.
Engineers in the Middle East are working on the challenge of dust. It too is in abundance in our desert land. Where a manual labour could be used to rid of the dust on a parking ticket machine, you’d need a more serious machinery on the farm.
We will continue to monitor the Sun power situation. The weather is good for both us, the users, and investors (heard of Google spending 300 M USD on it? The search-masters bough a share in the US SolarCity plant, 377MW).
* State of Energy Report in the UAE 2015