ABU DHABI– Masdar’s Shams I concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in Abu Dhabi catapulted the United Arab Emirates to its new ranking as third among the world’s nations in both 2013 CSP technology investment and total CSP capacity. The UAE now ranks only behind Spain and the United States in total CSP generation; India and China round out the world’s top five.
The rankings were recently unveiled in a report by REN21, an international multi-policy stakeholder network that promotes a rapid global transition to renewable energy.
According to REN21, the 100 megawatt CSP plant in Abu Dhabi’s western region is one reason why CSP’s growth in emerging markets almost tripled during 2013. Although Spain and the U.S. are still by far the market leaders in CSP, investment in this technology is accelerating most rapidly in regions that receive high amounts of daily sunshine—or in industry terminology, high direct normal irradiation (DNI). Worldwide since 2004, global CSP capacity has increased 10-fold, and last year surged 36% to a total of 3.4 gigawatts of energy generated.
While this industry continues to grow, it is also marked by the use of a more standardized design. CSP plants in the past decade have incorporated several designs and technologies over the past years, but in 2013, all newly constructed CSP plants used the parabolic trough design—which is in use by Shams 1. Overall trends in the industry are favoring larger plants to take advantage of economies of scale, as in the case of the Shams 1 plant, one of the largest CSP plants worldwide.
“We’re pleased to see how high the UAE ranks worldwide in renewable energy generation, given the country’s commitment to sourcing more sources of secure and safe energy,” said Yousif Al Ali, General Manager of Shams 1 Power Company. “And the numbers bear fruit: since its launch, Shams 1 has been generating enough power to electrify 20,000 homes in the UAE and displaces 175,000 tons of carbon annually.”
The REN21 report demonstrates how through its investment in CSP technology, the UAE is leading the region in renewable energy investment while strengthening its position as a responsible global energy leader.
The $600 million Shams 1 concentrated solar plant, the largest renewable energy project in the Middle East, opened in March 2013 and is a partnership between Masdar, Total and Abengoa. The 2.5 square kilometer facility uses solar thermal collectors to concentrate heat from sunlight into a central tube, where a special oil is heated to 393°C. In turn the heat from the oil generates steam that drives a turbine, which then powers a steam generator that produces electricity for Abu Dhabi’s grid.
Among large-scale CSP plants, Shams 1 stands out for its innovative approach towards water consumption and conservation. Typical CSP plants consume vast quantities of water because of the need to cool and condense steam before it is pumped back into the generator. Shams 1 instead uses an air-cooled condensing system, which saves hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually while maintaining an overall high operational efficiency.