Covering nearly 300 football fields in a remote patch of desert, the Shams 1 concentrated solar power project carries plenty of symbolic significance for the United Arab Emirates.
It will be the first, large-scale solar project in the country when it is completed at the end of the year, and the largest of its kind in the Middle East. At full capacity, the 100-megawatt, concentrated solar project will be able to power 20,000 homes. For those behind the project, it’s the surest sign yet that solar is coming to the region in a big way.
“We truly believe solar will be a major contributor to meeting our own requirements,” said Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the UAE’s Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change and the chief executive officer of government-funded Masdar, which is the majority investor in the project.
“We are not like many other countries today that have a desperate need for complimentary sources of power,” Jaber said, adding Abu Dhabi plans to generate 7 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
Beam Down Pilot project, a joint pilot project of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Japan’s Cosmo Oil Company and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, takes the conventional concentrated solar power design and literally turns it on its head at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
“We are looking at it from a strategic point of view … we want to become a technology player, rather than an energy player.”
Saudi Arabia announced targets of 10 percent by 2020 and Kuwait 15 percent by 2030.
Tarek El Sayed, a principal with the consulting firm Booz & Company, projected that countries in the Middle East and North Africa could become significant renewable energy players in the coming decades. Although he said in a report that the sector is currently “underfunded or not funded at all,” several projects across the region are on the drawing board and El Sayed expects Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia to be big players along with the smaller Gulf countries like the UAE that are investing heavily in the sector.
“The real prize is Saudi Arabia,” Vahid Fotuhi, who also heads the Emirates Solar Industry Association, said, noting that it has promised to build 41,000 megawatts of capacity by 2032.
“Anyone who is looking at the Middle East will have their eyes sharply focused on the Saudi market. It’s the 800-pound gorilla of the Middle East solar market.”