The largest concentrated solar power project in the Middle East, Shams 1, has performed better than expected, the Shams Power Company has reported.

High-ranking officials of the Shams Power Company recently reported the total generation output of the plant during the first year of its operation. The company had expected to generate about 193,000 MWh electricity in 2014 but managed to generate just under 215,000 MWh. This translates into an increase of 12% over the expected generation.

The increased generation was largely a result of higher solar radiation availability, especially during the winter months. The better-than-expected generation was achieved despite the fact that the plant had to shut down operations briefly during the summer months due to sand storms. The plant had to encounter wind speeds of up to 126 kilometres per hour (78 miles per hour), equivalent to those experienced in a tropical storm or category 1 hurricane.

The sand storm was a test of the structural integrity of the power plant, which it hass passed definitively. Of the 258,048 mirrors being used in the parabolic trough reflectors, less than 30 mirrors were damaged during the sand storm.

The power generation also dipped in November 2014 during a planned maintenance shutdown but still managed to beat the monthly generation estimates.

Shams 1 2014 Generation

Net generation v/s expected net generation at Shams 1 project, 2014 (Source: Shams Power Company)

The average plant availability in 2014 was 98.22% and the self-consumption was at 7.7%, significantly less than the expected 12.4% of the gross power generation.

The power project has a number of unique features that enhance its efficiency. The oil flowing in the absorber tubes is heated to around 400ºC (752ºF) using solar radiation focused from parabolic trough reflectors. In order to enhance efficiency and power generation, natural gas is used to further heat the oil to around 540ºC (1,004ºF) before it is sent into the heat exchanger. Water flowing into the heat exchanger is converted into steam, which is then fed into the steam turbine-generator where electricity is generated.

Shams 1 Parabolic Troughs

Some of the major “achievements” associated with this project include the largest financing transaction for a solar power project ($600 million) and first CSP project to be registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to earn carbon credits against the greenhouse gas emissions offset.

The power generated from the power plant is sold to Masdar City through a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). While the cost of generation or tariff agreed under the PPA is unknown, the officials working at the power plant state that the project should be seen as a major milestone in the solar power infrastructure development of the UAE and the Middle East. The crucial lessons learnt during the implementation and the operation of this project will be instrumental in the development of other projects around the world.