Future360 travels to Abu Dhabi to check out the largest concentrating solar plant in the world, Shams 1. The 100 MW plant occupies a square mile of the desert, roughly the size of 300 football fields. When commissioned later this year, Shams 1 will power for 20,000 homes.
The technology works by using 250,000 parabolic shaped mirrors to turn sunlight into energy. These collectors concentrate the sun’s heat onto a tube filled with hot oil — that heats water — to produce steam. A gas powered booster heater increases the steam’s temperature to over 500 degrees farenheit. The steam then drives a turbine to produce energy.
As water is a scarce commodity, Shams 1 opted to go for air cooling in the form of huge fans to regulate temperature, rather than water cooling employed at most CSP plants.
While water maybe scarce, the UAE is rich in oil and gas. There are enough reserves to power the country for 100 years. Yet Masdar clearly sees the value of renewable energy. Plants like Shams 1 allows the UAE to reduce their dependence for oil and gas, and allow that value to be exploited and exported and fetch higher premium elsewhere.
$600 million has been invested in the development of Shams 1. The plant will be operational in 2013, and will contribute to reaching Abu Dhabi’s goal of 7 percent renewable energy by 2020. Shams 1 brings together technology, capital and human ingenuity. The UAE sees the future shift in the global economy and is banking on becoming a leader in clean energy.