What's the deal with the world's biggest solar projects?
Ambitions in the renewable energy sector are strong in desert lands, especially those of the UAE. Blessed with strong sunlight all year round, there are plans to build the largest solar farms, as well as wind farms in the expanse of the largest desert in the world.
The government visions in the region showcase these in numbers. In the UAE, Vision 2050 sees 50 percent of the country’s energy needs being met by renewable sources. While the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 plans to have 7% of its output by 2020 to be from renewable sources, increasing it to 25% by 2030, and 75% by 2050. Saudi Arabia on the other hand writes in its Vision 2030, that they set “an initial target of generating 9.5 gigawatts of renewable energy.” The Kingdom had plans to build 200GW solar plant, however, there were reports of it being cancelled in October last year.
By contrast, California has a goal of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2045. China too has been strong on the renewables front. In August, Reuters reported “China’s total renewable power amounted to 728 gigawatts at the end of 2018, up 12% on the year and amounting to 38% of total installed generation capacity. This included hydro and biomass as well as solar and wind.”
China has also been financing solar and wind projects across the world and is the largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles. One of the highest solar farms in the world, Cauchari is situated on the northern highlands of Argentina, and is building its capacity from 300 megawatts to 550 megawatts (MW). 85% of its financing has come from China.
Closer to home, Dubai started building its solar farms back in 2012, when the first phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park was launched; delivering 13MW that became operational in 2013. The second, third and fourth phases were launched consecutively over the next few years with planned capacity of 200MW, 800MW and 950MW respectively.
The Solar Park is the largest single-site solar energy project in the world, aka concentrated, with a planned total production capacity of 5,000MW by 2030. Moreover, the fourth phase will see the development of the world’s tallest solar tower, at 260 metres, which also has the largest thermal energy storage capacity in the world of 15 hours that allows for energy generation round the clock.
In Sweihan Abu Dhabi, the world’s single largest solar project, Noor, became operational in July this year. With a capacity of 1,177MW through 3.2 million solar panels installed over 8 sq.km., the project is a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Power Corporation and a consortium of Japan’s Marubeni Corp and China’s Jinko Solar Holding. At the time of bid submission, it attracted the world’s most competitive power tariff of 8.888 fils/kWh.
Renewable energy players are also emerging across the region. Many of the phases of solar farms have been awarded to regional players including Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power, Shuaa Energy 1 and Masdar-led consortium.
While this is brilliant news for the energy sector as we stand at the crux of climate crisis, we reckon that with the advancement in solar PVs and energy storage solutions, it will no longer matter who has the biggest solar farm. What is more important is how effectively the energy is generated, stored and used — and at what cost.