The United Arab Emirates has recognized the start-up of its largest solar energy project to date.
The Shams 1 solar plant generates of electricity by concentrating solar thermal energy to vaporize a fluid into steam, which in turn spins a turbine. Shams 1 can produce up to 100 megawatts of power, making the project the world's largest concentrating solar power projects.
Concentrating solar power, or CSP projects, use mirrors to heat a working fluid and ultimately to produce steam. Shams 1 uses parabolic trough mirrors to focus the sun's energy on pipes full of a working fluid, while other concentrating solar projects focus mirrors on a central tower containing the working fluid. That working fluid's heat is then exchanged into water, which vaporizes into superheated steam. It is this steam that spins the turbine attached to an electric generator. Concentrating solar thermal projects differ from those using photovoltaic technology, in which the sun's energy is converted into direct current electricity using specialized semiconductors.
Shams 1 was developed by Shams Power Company PJSC, a
special purpose vehicle owned 60% by UAE-owned Masdar and 40% by the Total
Abengoa Solar Emirates Investment Company, a vehicle in turn jointly owned by
Total (50%) and Abengoa (50%). These companies are said to have invested $600 million in building Shams 1.
With its commissioning, Shams 1 becomes the first utility-scale renewable power project in the UAE. Other first and "biggests" include the largest financing transaction for a solar power project (US$600 million) the largest operating single pure concentrating solar plant in the world.
UAE is blessed with energy resources. For years, interest has focused on its oil and gas production. Shams 1 is a small step toward resource diversification. Will UAE continue to invest in alternative and renewable energy?