How far can Dubai’s Smart Palm scheme expand?

The Smart Palm scheme, a network of solar-powered information kiosks to be installed across the Emirates, is proof of the UAE’s solar ambitions

Shining bright: the response to Smart Palm units in Dubai has been positive, its founders say.
Shining bright: the response to Smart Palm units in Dubai has been positive, its founders say.
Smart Palm units offer complimentary internet.
Smart Palm units offer complimentary internet.

The implementation and functions of solar power are gaining momentum in the GCC region, most notably in the UAE. This year marked the arrival of Dubai’s newest city infrastructure technology, which is inspired and powered by solar energy. Smart Palm units, shaped like palm trees, are device-recharge stations and information points, which also offer complimentary Wi-Fi access.

The technology, which is a part of the UAE Cabinet Year of Innovation project, has been jointly put together by Dubai Municipality, Du, Sun Tab Solar Energy, Promo Tech Gulf Industry, and Smart Palm creators, D Idea Media.

Viktor Nelepa, founder and CEO of D Idea, tells Construction Week that his firm charted out an implementation strategy for Smart Palm in collaboration with various UAE government authorities.

“The priority is [to implement the units at] the locations approved by Dubai Municipality,” Nelepa says.

“In the first phase, we are going to install Smart Palms in Dubai at 103 locations identified by Dubai Municipality, including public parks and beaches.

“From those, at least 20 more units will be installed at Dubai’s public beaches and parks by the end of 2015, with the rest planned for completion through 2016.”

Nelepa continues: “In the second phase, we plan to install Smart Palm units all over UAE and in various other locations apart from public parks and beaches, such as in golf courses, malls, metro stations, schools, hospitals, airports, seaports, marinas, corniches, and similar locations.”

Umm Suqeim Beach and Za’abeel Park were the first two locations at which Smart Palms were installed in April 2015. Aside from providing complimentary wireless internet access, the 6m-tall units also carry information on the weather and local attractions.

Nelepa, and D Idea, are ambitiously eyeing GCC- and world-wide expansion under phases three and four, and they believe the response to the newly-installed Smart Palm units in Dubai is a barometer of how functional the technology is.

The Smart Palm’s fronds are topped with photovoltaic panels, which take in and store energy from the sun during the day and power its facilities at night.

The stations, which run entirely on solar power, offer high-speed Wi-Fi across a 53m range and can support up to 50 users at a time. Smart Palms also feature outlets for mobile devices, with charging speeds two-and-a-half times faster than a conventional plug.

Designed for ease of navigation for tourists in Dubai, screens on each palm offer weather details, local news, a navigation application, and general Dubai information.

D Idea is also working towards manufacturing a 3D printed Smart Palm unit.

“The 3D Smart Palm is going to be the first large object produced using additive manufacturing of its kind in the UAE, and the entire Middle East,” Nelepa says. “It is planned for launch on 18 October, 2015 – the opening date of 35th GITEX Technology Week in Dubai.

“Even though we’re still in the project’s early stages, the interest in acquiring Smart Palms for various projects has been overwhelming.”

“In Dubai alone, we’ve received inquiries from Tecom for its locations such as Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village, and various government institutions, such as the Ministry of Defence and Dubai International Airport, have also [been in touch],” Nelepa proudly adds.

“Furthermore, various organisations, both government and private, have put forward offers for installing Smart Palms in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, and Fujairah.”

Following the installation of the first Smart Palms in Dubai, Eng Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality, said: “Under the guidance of our leaders, Dubai has developed an international reputation as a place for technology and innovation.

“Through Smart Palm, the public will be able to benefit from free direct access to the internet while providing valuable public information covering a range of topics including weather forecasts and orientation guides.

“Most importantly, these structures are entirely self-sufficient thanks to their mono-crystal solar panels, which provide up to 21% efficiency,” Lootah added.

Other venues to be included in the scheme include Dubai Creek Park, Al Mamzar Park, and Al Barsha Pond Park.

The UAE’s government is eager to push solar energy applications in the country, as are Dubai authorities, which are keen to meet targets set by Dubai Energy Strategy 2030.

In June 2015, as part of the second phase of its bus shelter construction project, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced that it would construct 400 solar-powered bus shelters – air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned – across various parts of the Emirate, based on the volume of demand in each area.

During the announcement, director-general and chairman of the board of executive directors at RTA, HE Mattar Al Tayer, unveiled a new model design for the bus shelters. Solar panels will generate enough electricity for illumination and to power attached advertising signs in areas where electric current is low or absent.

“The newly designed crescent-shaped shelters are manufactured [from] high-quality materials, and using paints resistant to heat, humidity, and dust,” Al Tayer said.

“The shelters will be fabricated [from] reinforced polyester-covered aluminium in order to protect the structures from tough elements, and seats will be made of rigorous, low-heat absorption materials for the convenience of users,” he continued.

“The protective solar sheets are made of glazed material distributed on the basis of an engineering and technical model preventing the permeation of as much as possible of sunlight to seated users.”

The solar panels will be manufactured using “high-quality efficient materials”, which can generate and distribute electricity to enable maximum exposure, and concentration of sunlight to convert it into electric power.

“LED lights will be used to power billboards to economise on the use of electric power,” continued AlTayer.

Whilst no construction schedule for the project has been announced, RTA confirmed that the phase, once complete, will raise the total number of bus shelters in Dubai to 1,285.

Solar energy and its benefits are evidently finding fans in the public sector and city infrastructure setup, and Nelepa is keen to promote its advantages in supporting entertainment and touristic infrastructure as well.

“Since the concept is pretty new for Dubai and the UAE in general, our initial objective was to see the reaction of the general public as well as the government, both about the various features that we implemented and their compatibility, as well as whether the project would be accepted,” he admits.

“Everything we set out to do was successfully accomplished, which prompted us to go even further in terms of additional features, like introducing smartphone applications with the newest technology, expanding the existing Smart City Info app on the touchscreen, and adding smart features like sunscreen spray booths, ATMs, and a plethora of other technologies.”

Nelepa reveals the firm is also working on concepts that borrow from Smart Palm’s basics.

He concludes: “Smart City projects and innovative designs in modern mega cities are our main interest, and the success of Smart Palm prompted us to start working on several other ideas, including a Smart Wind Pole, Smart Bin, Street Smart Palm, and other concepts, [the details of which] – even though are currently confidential – are keeping us very busy.”

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