Face-to-face: Manos Kappas, Innovations Unlimited

Out of sight, mounted high on the rooftops, Doha is harnessing the sun's rays to help power its buildings

Manos Kappas stands amid the solar array on the DI Annex building Msheireb. A total of 1,550 solar panels stretch over the roof, producing 340kW peak
Manos Kappas stands amid the solar array on the DI Annex building Msheireb. A total of 1,550 solar panels stretch over the roof, producing 340kW peak

On a whirlwind tour of four renewable energy installations, CWQ was afforded the opportunity to see up-close-and-personal how exactly Qatar is going about becoming sustainable on the renewable energy front.

Leading the tour was Manos Kappas, project manager, Innovations Unlimited in the Middle East. Involved and responsible for all project execution and implementation of the different types of renewable energy installations, covering all three fields of solar power energy, photovoltaics, solar thermal systems – everything to do with hot water supply – and wind energy systems, mainly wind turbines, Kappas’ zeal for his field
is evident.

In the scorching 46?C Doha heat, our first stop was the D1 Annex in Msheireb, part of the Doha downtown renewable project. “Nine out of ten projects that we have are roof top installations because land is an expensive commodity here in Qatar,” he mentions and explains that the panels lie flat so as to not be visible from the ground: “Purely aesthetic reasons,” he adds.

With an impressive sea of 1,550 panels stretching over the roof, a 340kW peak power output is possible. “When we say ‘peak’ it’s because a solar panel’s energy fluctuates with the movement of the sun, increasing in energy as the sun passes overhead,” he says.

“However, the maximum output of each panel is 225W, because at the time of the contract being signed in 2012 that was the maximum output possible with the technology of the day. Today in 2015, on another project that we are implementing, our solar panels output 260W peak power.”

Although the technology may not be the most up-to-date, retrofitting makes little sense he stresses, saying that the gains would be overshadowed by the investment cost.

As it is, the project saves about 4% overall which, when compared against higher figures sounds minimal and can’t help leaving one feeling a little let down. But, and here is the issue, this is a consistent 4% saving in a completed, fully functional building.

“The solar component serves as a load-sharing function, we are trying to save energy,” Kappas explains. “The system is designed to work together with the utility company and take some of that load off the grid; nothing is fed back into the grid. Here in Qatar, there is no regulation in place for that presently; there is no such thing as net-metering.

“Therefore, the only way to use solar energy within a building is to ensure that you can support some of the load of the building, with safety precautions in place ensuring that power is not fed back into the grid.”

Kappas is candid when he says that a lack of knowledge is what is holding Qatar back from exploring the renewable energy technology more fully: “I believe that the reason why there hasn’t been any such moves so far – it is the lack of knowledge. People are always afraid of what they don’t know. Even the UAE, normally considered leaders in technology in the GCC only recently started a pilot program with net-metering functions,” he points out.

“The total projects in Msheireb, in its various phases that we are covering presently, totals about 1,6kW. However, Msheireb consists of seven full phases, with only the first three awarded,” he explains.

Part of the renewable energy tour included a brief visit to a mosque in Msheireb where, on its rooftop, once again hidden from public view, a modest solar panel array outputs 7kW.

“Generally, with 75% of energy requirements going to the air conditioning and the rest coming off the grid, this is a big step in saving,” Kappas explains. The mosque is the first such building to have its own solar array.

Next stop, the Kahramaa Awareness Park is an educational building development and, as such, has the first ground solar installation, mainly because it is a visual example of how solar energy is created, while also serving as a marketing tool.

“The Kahramaa Awareness Park is the first step to creating a culture; we are not lacking in technology or human resources, we are lacking in culture,” Kappas says and adds, “Once this culture shows how we can live side-by-side with natural resources, then change is inevitable,” he contends with obvious delight.

The building is multi-facetted when it comes to renewable energy, from wind turbines and thermal systems to photovoltaic systems. Designed within limited space, the building has a 64kW solar system that is off-grid, supported by four extensive battery banks.

It is able to maintain a 64kW load for forty eight hours straight, even without sunshine. “In the unlikely eventuality that there is no sunlight, the grid kicks in and supplements our needs,” he explains.

Given the building is still not fully functional, the savings are minimal, totalling about one percent of the electricity consumption.

“The one thing we cover 100% is hot water generation, through our solar thermal system, comprising 16 collectors, feeding into a buffer tank of 3,000 litres, which will cover all the relevant needs of visitors to the park,” Kappas adds.

Wind energy requires space and aesthetics also plays its part in the installation of wind turbines, so the ones at the Kahramaa Awareness Park are noticeably smaller than those found towering 100m-plus overhead in Europe and the US. “The wind is not constant so therefore an unreliable source of energy for the region,” he states.

The three turbines each produce 10kW and stand 30 metres high and also have a battery system. “Presently they serve to run the five on-site fountains around the venue,” Kappas adds.

To a lesser degree the moving parts in a dusty environment are also not ideal, and he contends that a photovoltaic system on the other hand “requires almost no maintenance. The only thing you need to follow up with is cleaning the panels”.

The last site on the tour was Al Saad Multipurpose Hall or Ali Bin Hamad al-Attiyah Arena. Running around the perimeter of the roof, 1,080 Kioto polycrystalline 240Wp panels are lined up in three rows and swoop around the edge.

“The total system power output is 259,20 kWp, fed into two separate battery systems, which in turn, cover all loads designated for the catwalk areas ie lights, sockets, storage rooms etc,” Kappas explains.

According to the Arab Solar Association, Qatar intends to generate 20% of its energy from renewables by 2024, and to have 1,800MW of installed green capacity by 2020.

Considering that every square kilometre of land in Qatar receives a yearly solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of crude oil, the country is indeed geographically well-positioned to significantly benefit from solar energy –starting on the rooftops.

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