A closer look at the world’s largest CSP plant

The world’s largest concentrating solar power plant opened yesterday in the UAE – a sign of the solar power boom ahead for the Middle East.

The world’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant was launched on Sunday. As regular CleanTechnica readers will remember, we’ve covered this 100 MW CSP Plant – Shams 1 – a few times, and Marika Krakowiak and I even got to visit and tour the power plant in January.

In the announcement, Masdar representatives point out that Shams 1 “will power thousands of homes in the United Arab Emirates and displace approximately 175,000 tons of CO2 per year.”

The project cost $600 million and took approximately three years to construct.

The power plant is operated by Shams Power Company (which also designed and developed the project), and it is owned by Masdar (60 per cent ownership), Abengoa Solar (20 per cent ownership), and Total (20 per cent ownership).

Shams 1 is a beast of a project that is hard to capture in words or even pictures. To try to put it into perspective, though, the Masdar team writes that the power plant covers 2.5 square kilometres, which is equal to about 285 football fields, and that it can generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes in the UAE.

As I wrote in January: “768 parabolic trough collectors track the sun from sunrise to sunset and use parabolic mirrors to focus the energy of the sun on a central tube containing oil. The concentrated heat is then passed through the system until it is used to boil water and produce steam, which drives a conventional turbine that generates electricity. Additionally, a middle step is the use of natural gas to ‘superheat’ the water. Project managers informed us that this accounts for about 20 per cent of the heat.”

By the way, 258,000 mirrors are mounted onto those 768 parabolic trough collectors.

One thing I was not previously aware of is that, with this addition, “Masdar’s renewable energy portfolio accounts for almost 68 per cent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and nearly 10 per cent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.”

And Santiago Seage, CEO of Abengoa Solar, adds another interesting fact: “The Middle East holds nearly half of the world’s renewable energy potential.”

GTM Research projects that the Middle East and North Africa region will have 3.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2015. For a fairly thorough discussion as to why this transformation is taking place in the oil-rich Middle East, check out my piece about Masdar as a whole.

Shams Power Company Process Engineer Abdulaziz Al Obaidli and Shams Power Company General Manager Yousif Al Ali each told me (in separate interviews) that Abu Dhabi was likely to get most of its renewable energy from solar PV, not CSP, by 2020 (Abu Dhabi has a 7 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target).

While power plants like Shams 1 are more flexible – electricity can be generated whenever desired – solar PV is considerably cheaper, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. Solar PV projects are also quicker to build and can be implemented in more locations (in particular, they work well close to or even on commercial and residential buildings – where electricity is consumed).

Kudos to Masdar and Shams Power Company for this notable feat. I look forward to hearing about (and possibly seeing) Masdar’s next big project.

This article was originally published by CleanTechnica. Republished with permission.

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