Clean Power

Published on January 26th, 2015 | by Mridul Chadha

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Shams 1 — Largest CSP Project In Middle East — Performing Better Than Expected

January 26th, 2015 by  

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

Shams1 CSP Project_Panorama

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.

Related Stories:

CSP Cost, Trends, & Types (Exclusive Interview With CSP Expert In Abu Dhabi)

Largest Single-Unit Concentrated Solar Power Plant In World — Shams 1 (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

World’s Largest Concentrating Solar Power Plant Launches In Abu Dhabi

CleanTechnica Exclusive: ‘Inside’ The World’s Largest Single-Unit Solar Power Plant

Top & Bottom Images by Mridul Chadha | CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA 4.0)

*Full Disclosure: My trip to and accommodation in Abu Dhabi for the Shams 1 tour, Zayed Future Energy PrizeWorld Future Energy Summit, and other Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week events was covered by Masdar. That said, I have full editorial control over my articles.


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About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.



  • James White

    I see the value of “heat energy added scenario” makes perfect sense

  • Larmion

    Is there any word on Shams 2&3? I remember them being announced with a lot of fanfare in 2012, but I’ve heard nothing about them since. Google too has little recent info on them.

    Are they cancelled or is progress being made?

  • Will E

    what should be the output of a pure Solar PV installation for the same money. My opinion is that Solar PV beats the Solar thermic systemby far.. this is still the old steam machine idea.

    • Larmion

      That’s an apples-and-oranges comparison.

      The strength of a CSP plant is that storage can be added at minimal cost. This means the plant can produce power when it’s most needed, or even be used as a baseload plant if desired.

      PV can only do that if a large battery pack is added. So in order to make a fair comparison, you’d need to compare the cost of PV with battery storage to CSP. And that would still come out heavily in favor of CSP.

      The ‘old steam machine idea’ also has several advantages over PV of course. A CSP plant can be converted to a source of process heat if so desired. Not going to happen with PV.

      CSP and PV will coexist. They have different strengths and weaknesses.

      • Bob_Wallace

        What numbers are you using for stored thermal vs PV with battery storage?

        • Larmion

          In 2013, South Africa put both PV and solar thermal capacity up for auction. It paid 1,6 rand (1,35 dollar) for a kWh of solar thermal vs 1 rand (90 cents) for PV without storage.

          That means storing a kWh of PV via battery storage can cost no more than 0.6 rand (50 cents). That’s a cost not yet met by utility scale storage providers like Younicos.

          Obviously, this is but one very small sample. It cannot by itself prove CSP is cheaper, but it does show that CSP is at the very least competitive with PV + batteries for now.

          Not that this sort of back-of-the-enveloppe math is even necessary. The fact of the matter is that CSP capacity is growing and almost all of it includes storage. The number of large PV plants that include storage, meanwhile, can be counted on my fingers.

          That proves my thesis nicely: if storage is required, CSP is still the go-to option.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Looking at some US numbers Lazard puts the LCOE for PV solar from 6 to 8.6 cents. That looks about right considering the 5 cent PPAs that were signed in 2014. Adding back in the federal subsidy takes it a bit over 6 cents.

            They put thermal with storage at 12 to 13 cents/kWh.

            EOS zinc air batteries are being marketed at $160/kWh and 10,000 cycles which makes them about 4 cents per kWh when financed at 6%.

            Those numbers put PV with storage a bit lower. Obviously these are not mature industries. PV will likely drop to around 4 cents, 5 at the most. Storage may be a bit cheaper with liquid metal and flow batteries. I don’t have a feel for how low thermal solar might go.

          • Larmion

            Yeah, you can find far lower (and higher) numbers than what I cited. I just used th SA numbers because it’s the only example I could think of where a large chunk of both technologies was auctioned at the same time, thus coming as close to a fair comparison as possible.

            Either way, there is no doubt that prices have been steadily falling for all technologies involved

            To continue looking at SA: a similar auction to the one I cited took place in 2012; bids came in at 2,5 rand for CSP and 1,65 rand for PV).

            With battery costs falling as quickly as they are, who knows what future CSP has. But at the moment, far more CSP with storage is being built than PV with storage. Back when Shams was built, the difference was even larger.

          • CU
      • globi

        Your storage argument is moot, because UAE has plenty of flexible power plants and definitely no need for storage. Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.

        If the money was spent on a PV power plant instead, much more fossil fuels would have been displaced.

        Besides, PV with batteries is indeed cheaper than CSP. (Conclusion with NaS batteries from 4 years ago.)

      • AltairIV

        “So in order to make a fair comparison, you’d need to compare the cost of PV with battery storage to CSP.”

        Wouldn’t it be best to compare the cost of PV with battery storage to an equivalent amount of CSP with heat storage? 😉 While I grant that the latter probably is cheaper than the former right now, I question the statement that it’s “heavily” in favor of CSP. And with the speed at which the cost and performance of battery storage is improving, I also wonder whether will remain a real advantage for very much longer.

        “The ‘old steam machine idea’ also has several advantages over PV of
        course. A CSP plant can be converted to a source of process heat if so
        desired.”

        Doesn’t this also work in the other direction though? A PV system converts solar energy directly into electricity, without needing to go through an extra heat conversion step first. You’d think that might be an advantage for a plant whose purpose is to generate *electricity*, not heat.

        Note, BTW, that I’m not biased against CSP in general, and I’m not trying to discount what you said. But whether something is an advantage or a disadvantage often depends on the goal you are trying to achieve. You simply need to choose whatever works best for the purpose at hand.

    • sjc_1

      The cooling section can be used to make fresh water from sea water.

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