Dubai Launches Rooftop Solar Program, Without Any Size Limits

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The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has launched a solar rooftop and net metering program as part of a new initiative called “Shams Dubai” which will allow generation of solar energy in buildings and their connection to the grid.

Several local newspapers are claiming the initiative to be the first of its kind in the Middle East.  While Jordan already has a rooftop programme in place, this would clearly be the first such scheme in the Arabian Gulf sunrise

We have reported previously that the city was busy preparing a draft legislation in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Energy. Later, in December last year, the UAE’s Executive Council passed a motion paving the path for rooftop PV systems to operate under a net metering system.

Shams Dubai is one of the three projects launched by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) in 2014 to support the “Smart Dubai Initiative” of UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Smart Dubai Initiative is intended “to make Dubai the smartest city on earth, and make life easier through the efficient, integrated, seamless and sustainable use of resources”, said Mr. Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, chief executive of DEWA.

DEWA’s second initiative is to install smart meters and networks that contribute to fast-service connection, fast response, and rationalise energy use. The third initiative aims to establish the infrastructure to build 100 electric vehicle charging stations this year.

Residents who decide to install solar rooftop systems will be allowed to feed excess solar power into the grid and this will be offset against the amount of conventional energy purchased from DEWA. No direct subsidy has been announced to facilitate the initial solar uptake.

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As per the conditions set, consumers will have to bear all solar-power connectivity costs, obtain necessary approvals and licences, and comply with metering requirements set by DEWA. Other rules make it clear that the electricity bills can never go negative, and neither can the users sell more to DEWA than they are using.

So far, eleven applications have already been filed through the Shams Dubai Initiative by companies and individuals, for solar rooftops with a total capacity of 8.5 MW. This includes a 2 MW capacity solar plant at the Dubai International Humanitarian City.

Last week, a 30 kW solar array at the Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport became the first installation to be connected to the grid under the scheme. The 100 panel system is expected to generate about 48.8 MWh of electricity every year, good enough to satisfy about two-thirds of the energy requirements of the facility it has been installed at.

Prior to that, power and automation technology firm ABB had inked an MoU with DEWA to install a showcase solar rooftop system. The 277 kW capacity system will come online at ABB’s factory/office at Dubai. Interestingly, unlike what one gets to hear in rooftop programs in other regions, DEWA has said that Dubai’s electricity grid can currently accommodate the addition of large amounts of power. As a result, no restrictions have been placed on the number of solar roofs that can join the scheme.  To quote Mr Tayer, “There is no constraint in the network, (and) it can withstand an addition of up to 2,600 MW.”

In order to ensure smooth grid operation, DEWA states that installers will only be able to use pre-approved tools and components. The utility will also approve design plans and inspect facilities before they can connect to the grid.

DEWA has currently requested module and inverter manufacturers as well as installation equipment manufacturers to register for the scheme. It plans to periodically review the performance of these systems and their compatibility to ensure seamless integration with the current power production systems. A list of approved equipment will be published and regularly updated on the DEWA website.

Logic demands that the commercial establishments who pay more than individual users and also constitute the major electricity demand in Dubai will be the ones to contribute major fraction of the solar rooftop capacity that comes online. Not only are the large industrial rooftops well suited to PV, with falling solar power costs (through economies of scale) and rising DEWA end-user electricity prices, but over time the solar proposition becomes continuously attractive .

Earlier in 2012 DEWA launched the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park with First Solar awarded the contract to set up 13 MW capacity. The bid results of the 100 MW solar power plant for the second phase of the solar park had shattered solar power prices worldwide, with ACWA emerging as the clear winner.

Currently, Dubai’s power plants run on natural gas, all of which is imported. As per the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030, Dubai plans to increase renewable energy in the Emirate’s mix to 7% by 2020 and 15% by 2030.

If things go to plan, Dubai could well become the rooftop solar leader in the MENA region.

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Anand Upadhyay

is a Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, New Delhi). He tweets at @indiasolarpost. Views and opinion if any, are his own.

Anand Upadhyay has 95 posts and counting. See all posts by Anand Upadhyay