By the end of the year, Shams 1 will be the first major renewable energy plant in Abu Dhabi to supply concentrating solar power to the emirate.


With a capacity to generate 100 Megawatt of electricity, enough to power 20,000 homes, Shams 1 is a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, one of the largest in the world and the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa.

“At the end of October all these generators that are now powering the plant will be gone and we will connect to the grid and will be live,” announced Yousif Al Ali, general manager of Shams Power Company.

Setting up a solar field of this magnitude took plenty of time and seat, especially out here, in the desert of Madinat Zayed, in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi emirate.

Work began in 2010 with local camel farms being relocated. For the solar panels to be properly positioned, the area had to be levelled. Five million cubic metres of sand, equal to twice the amount in the Cheops pyramid of Egypt, had to be removed to accommodate Shams 1.

The 2,500 people working here put in nearly 10 million men hours to bring the plant to the ready for testing phase.

As far as the eye can see, row after row of solar panels, oil pipes, turbines, steamers and air fans are filling the 2.5 square kilometres plant size.

“It is the size of about 100 Shaikh Zayed Grand mosques or 285 football fields,” pointed out Al Ali.

Shams 1 is a Masdar project, owned by Shams Power Company, which is jointly owned by Masdar (60 per cent), France’s Total (20 per cent) and Abengoa Solar of Spain (20 per cent). The solar power produced by it will be part of the emirate’s plans to generate seven per cent of all its power from renewable sources by 2020.

“Of course, we will build more renewable energy plants in Abu Dhabi,” said Al Ali. Once it starts producing energy at the end of this year, this will go directly to Abu Dhabi’s grid, owned by the Abu Dhabi Water and Energy Company (ADWEC), adding to the other sources of energy — conventional and, later on, nuclear. ADWEC will then sell it to Abu Dhabi Distribution Company and Al Ain Distribution Company, which will sell it to consumers.

“With Shams 1 we will be able to save 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the major source of pollution and climate change, every year, the equivalent of planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 cars of the road,” said Al Ali.

As a back up, the plant is also able to work with gas. The technology being used is one of the world’s best, mostly from Germany and Spain. The solar fields are rows of six metres high metal frames of curved mirrors. The silver alloy makes these mirrors, 260,000 of them, highly reflective (93 per cent reflectivity).

Their position is calculated not to get a single spot of shadow, moving 180 degrees, with the sun, so they capture the heat from every sunray.

The parabolic shape of the mirrors allows the sunlight hitting them to be reflected on to a small glass tube above the mirrors. The concentrated sunlight — from which the name Concentrated Solar Power is derived — heats up the collector tube, which has thermal oil inside.

The oil is allowed to heat up to 380 degrees and since oil begins to deteriorate at 400 degrees, it is turned into steam that is heated to the needed 540 degrees. This hot steam drives a giant turbine that, in turn, drives the generator that produces the energy.

“In case of a cloud or if ADWEC asks us to produce energy at night, we have a heater for the oil that works on gas,” pointed out Al Ali.

Five water trucks have also been brought to the plant for cleaning the solar mirrors. The first clean up has to be done manually, but afterwards just water jets will do.

“In case of wind or dust storms, the mirrors are able to protect themselves by automatically positioning facing the ground and each other,” added Al Ali.