Race for solar plant heats up

Bids are due this month for Masdar's first solar thermal power plant.

The Masdar Initiative could pave the way for solar power across the GCC as countries begin to take the first steps towards solar power generation. (Ge
The Masdar Initiative could pave the way for solar power across the GCC as countries begin to take the first steps towards solar power generation. (Ge

Bids are due this month for Masdar's first solar thermal power plant.

The Masdar Initiative plans to construct one 100MW solar power plant each year for the next three years. Four companies are bidding for the contract for the first plant.

The plant will be the largest single solar power project in the world, and the first large-scale solar thermal power facility in the GCC.

MAN Solar Millennium, a joint venture between Germany-based MAN Ferrostaal and Solar Millennium, is among the companies in the running.

"Four companies achieved pre-qualification, and are now participating in the tender itself," the joint venture's executive vice president Tom Koopman said.

"The winner will work jointly with Masdar, and will own and operate the plant and sell the power at a given rate," he said.

The plant will feed into the Emirates national grid. It is not yet known whether the plant will provide enough power to supply the entire Masdar City project.

"The systems within Masdar City change," Koopmann said. "One day they talk about solar cooling for Masdar City, then they may talk about solar panels within the city which will also generate power."

Koopmann said Masdar has selected an inland location from a shortlist of several sites for construction of the first plant.

The decision was based on radiation levels which are higher inland than near the coast.

Around 2 km2 of space is required to construct a 100 MW solar power plant, depending on a variety of factors such as heat, radiation levels and sunlight hours.

GCC countries have begun to take the first steps towards solar power generation prompted by predictions of forthcoming power shortages resulting from the ongoing construction boom and increasing concerns over the longevity of fossil fuels.

Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have explored solar power as an option. Dubai has also tendered out a feasibility study.

A successful operation in Abu Dhabi could pave the way for governments to follow.

"In my opinion we will kick-start the entire region," Koopmann said.

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