March 2013 – The UAE inaugurated one of the largest solar power stations in the world: Shams1. The new station is considered as a farsighted step in the country strategy in terms of sustainable development, especially for one of the biggest producers of oil in the world.
What does Shams1 bring to the UAE in terms of energy?
The new solar power plant is located in the southwest of Abu Dhabi. This particular location was chosen for several reasons. First, it contains enough space for the facilities. Then, it is directly exposed to sunlight and it is easy to connect it to water and electricity networks.
Shams 1 produces a clean electric energy. The amount of energy produced would be enough to provide electricity for 20,000 homes. This clean energy helps reducing carbon emissions by almost 175,000 tons. This is equivalent to taking 15,000 fuel-powered vehicles off the road. The environmental impact is equivalent to planting 1, 5 million trees. The facilities are installed over a space of 2, 5 square kilometer, meaning 285 football stadiums.
What is the technology used in Shams 1?
Shams1 uses parabolic trough technology. In simple words, the station gathers sunlight using reflecting mirrors which concentrate the rays on absorbing pipelines containing a heat conducting fluid. The fluid is complex oil called “Therminol”. It gets heated up to 393°F and transfers the heat to heating locations which transforms water into steam. The steam turns on turbines using pressure. After that, the turbines turn the mechanic energy into electric energy.
Why is solar energy important? We have oil!
Solar energy is sustainable and renewable, which means that we will never fear its exhaustion. It is a natural source of energy that can be used to generate other forms of energy. We can use it as fuel for cars and it could be used to heat water and lighten homes.
On a more global basis, by using individual solar panels, we can generate our own energy. We will no longer need public electricity network and we will no longer pay for electricity.
What are the disadvantages of solar energy?
Solar energy is subject to weather conditions
The solar energy varies depending on weather conditions. It provides a good production in the sunny areas during summer, while electricity production is very limited during winter and in cloudy areas. Electricity is also not produced overnight. It is often necessary to invest in energy storage means or opt for a secondary energy source.
A large area of photovoltaic panels is required for proper energy production. This system is less cost-effective than nuclear power for a major production.
A significant cost for a solar installation
The installation of a solar power system requires the intervention of specialized companies to ensure a high level of efficiency. To build Shams1, the UAE collaborated with a French company, TOTAL and a Spanish company, Abengoa Solar. The construction of Shams 1 cost US$600 million that were financed by 10 regional and international lenders. But it is important to notice that although the construction cost is high, these stations do not need high maintenance and their operational cost is very low compared to other technologies.
Solar power stations in the world
With its 100 MW (megawatts) capacity, Shams 1 is one of the 10 largest operational solar thermal power stations in the world. Before November 2014, the largest solar station was the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California, USA. Its capacity is 392 MW and it uses the solar power tower technology. The 5 largest solar power stations are located in the USA with a capacity ranking from 392MW to 250 MW. Then come 3 solar power stations located in Spain with a capacity of 150MW. And finally, come the solar power stations of 100MW including Shams1.
In November 2014, the big project Topaz became fully operational. This is the largest solar power station of the world. It is also located in California, USA. It is a 550 MW plant that will reduce carbon emission by 377,000 tons and corresponds to taking 73,000 fuel-powered vehicles off the road. The station has the lowest environmental impact of any photovoltaic technology and does not use water to produce electric energy. Photovoltaic installations are expected to be operational for 100 years.
The Ouarzazate solar power station is a Moroccan plant of 160 MW that is currently under construction. The expected date of completion is 2015.