Abu Dhabi's $600m solar plant to produce 100 MW power

Abu Dhabi recently made a 10-fold boost in its capacity to generate electricity from the sun by officially launching the Shams 1 solar plant for business. The 100 MW solar collector plant is a cooperative venture between Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned renewable-energy company, French oil firm Total and Spain’s energy infrastructure company Abengoa Solar.

Shams 1, which is expected to produce 100 MW of electricity per year, is part of Abu Dhabi's plan to produce 1,500 MW of solar power by 2020.  Spread across a land area equivalent to 285 football fields, the $600 million solar project is expected to power about 20,000 households in the UAE and eliminate about 175,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.

Located approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Abu Dhabi and 6 km from Madinat Zayed, the 2.5 square kilometer Shams facility (named after the Arabic word for sun) is technically the world's largest. The facility is unlike photovoltaic solar technology or the solar panels often seen on roof tops and harvests its solar energy using 258,048 trough-shaped parabolic mirrors that absorb sunlight rather than photovoltaic cells.

The mirrors are mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors, which focus light on an oil-filled pipe running through the center of the trough and heat it to 300 degrees Celsius. The heated oil then goes up to a heat exchanger. The oil is heated another 200 degrees using a natural gas burner before being used to boil water for a steam turbine. The steam produced is used to power turbines that produce electricity. A booster heats the steam as it enters the turbine, greatly increasing efficiency and a dry-cooling system dramatically cuts water consumption. However, even a light dusting of sand can cut the power generation of the system by 10 per cent.

The plant uses Abengoa Solar’s ASTRO parabolic trough collectors that are spread across 617 acres. The ASTRO collector is based on the 150m-long EuroTrough collector, which represents an improvement on the Luz collectors used in the SEGS CSP plants in California. ASTRO benefits from reduced weight and therefore reduced cost, while still delivering proven performance. The ASTRO collector features an improved structural design, with a torque box that increases stiffness and reduces torsion and glass breakage.

The Shams facility is a good step from an oil and gas rich emirate like Abu Dhabi to invest heavily in renewable energy because fossil fuels are a major contributor towards global warming. At least two more phases of expansion are also on the schedule for Shams.

Yousif Al Ali, general manager at Shams Power Company said Shams 1 is the only solar power plant in the world that uses booster heaters to increase the temperature, thus increasing the amount of power generated. "This project will help us to avoid producing emissions of carbon dioxide. It is registered with the United Nations as an emission reduction project under the CDM Mechanism and it will reduce emissions by about 175-thousand tons of CO2 per year which is equivalent to planting 1.5 million trees or removing around 15-thousand cars from our streets."