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Dubai pushes the envelope on concentrating solar power with a new world's largest-of-everything, lowest-cost solar project.

Clean Power

How Low Can Solar Go? This New Biggest-of-Everything Solar Project Is World’s Lowest

Dubai pushes the envelope on concentrating solar power with a new world’s largest-of-everything, lowest-cost solar project.

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CleanTechnica was wowed by a first-hand visit to the massive Shams 1 concentrating solar plant in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates a couple of years ago, and now it looks like the UAE is one-upping itself with plans for an even more massive project. This new one, to be located in Dubai, lays claim for the lowest cost in the world for a solar power plant, weighing in at just 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

That’s a pretty neat trick, considering that just last year the International Renewable Agency parsed out the global average at $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. It’s even neater when you consider that just a few years ago, concentrating solar power — CSP — was considered too clunky, complicated and Rube Goldbergesque to compete with photovoltaic systems.

How Low Can Solar Go?

The new CSP target of $0.07 is even more impressive when you look at a CSP cost study published last year in the journal of the American Academy of Physics. That study looked only at CSPs and found that currently, the levelized costs of electricity ranged between $0.14 and $0.15 per kWh. The study predicted that costs would sink to the $0.09 -$0.10 range by 2025, with most of the drop due to mature technology and favorable financing.

So, how is Dubai going to blow past that prediction for CSP? Part of the aim is to tap into the body of mature technology globally, and tap into lessons learned from other UAE solar power projects. Favorable financing conditions may also play a key role.

What’s Going On At The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park?

Our friends over at Gulf News have the rundown. The new CSP just broke ground last weekend at the existing Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.

Once completed, it will weigh in at 700 megawatts or enough to power about 270,000 homes, making it the world’s largest single site CSP.

To ice the cake, it will also have the world’s tallest solar tower at 260 meters, and the world’s largest thermal storage capacity.

When the CSP project was first announced last fall, Dubai ruler His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, had this to say:

…The UAE has succeeded in building a global green economy model based on the environmental sustainability and clean energy and supported by clear plans. These plans will contribute to strengthening the foundations of such model and developing it according to the world’s finest standards so as to make the most of this field and invest in enhancing infrastructure, building capabilities and training competent national competencies.

And, this:

Implementing the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) project reaffirms the UAE’s leadership in renewable clean energy all over the world and enhances our status at the forefront of the most advanced countries in this field.

And finally, this:

We are steadily moving towards achieving Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 goals, which we have launched to turn Dubai into a global hub for clean energy and green economy and become the lowest carbon footprint in the world by 2050.

Gulf News reporter Janice Ponce de Leon notes that the new project is just one part of Dubai’s broader goal of 75% renewable energy by 2050. Aside from the feel-goodness of decarbonization, the emphasis on renewables is aimed at providing for electricity rate stability.

The 75% goal is pretty ambitious, considering that just a couple of years ago the International Renewable Energy Agency foresaw a global average of only 13% renewables.

UAE Hearts Solar Power — No, Seriously

The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park provides a good snapshot of Dubai’s progress on solar power.

The solar park launched in 2013 with a relatively modest 13 megawatt photovoltaic installation. The second phase added 200 megawatts and was officially inaugurated today, March 20 2018. The third phase will add 800 megawatts by 2020, and phase 4 is the CSP.

Dubai is not letting any grass grow under its feet. By the time Dubai Expo 2020 rolls around, the Emirate expects to have 464 megawatts of capacity in hand. That’s enough to run Expo 2020, making it the world’s first Expo to operate exclusively on solar power.

For those of you new to the topic, it may seem a bit odd that Dubai is so dedicated to renewables. After all, the UAE is one of the epicenters of global oil production. In addition, the harsh desert environment is not the easiest place in the world to build solar power plants, considering the amount of dust and sand flying around.

In answer to the first thought, consider that Dubai and UAE — and for that matter, Saudi Arabia and other top oil producers — have seen the writing on the wall. Oil is a finite resource, the sun is infinite: it’s that simple.

That thing about rate stability matters, too. Oil is a global commodity, the sun is not. As economies develop, dependence on electricity grows.

Especially with the advent of electric vehicles, predictability of supply and stability of rates are vital economic factors. Considering that Tesla has opened up shop in Dubai, it’s a pretty safe bet that EVs will win hearts and minds in the UAE.

Water resource issues also come into play. It’s hard to make the case for fossil fuels when you can power a desalination plant with solar or wind energy.

As for building solar power plants in the desert, Abu Dhabi proved that the financials can work out when it launched the Shams 1 CSP with a built-in plan for keeping the equipment clean, with the help of a low tech wall and a high tech fleet of robotic washing trucks. So far the plant has outperformed expectations.

Speaking of building solar power plants in the desert, if you’ve heard any recent news about Desertec drop us a note in the comment thread.

Photo: via Dubai media office.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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