Arid, semi-desert areas of the world, where there has been the most development of utility grade thermal solar electric power, include Spain, Israel and the Southwestern United States. Australia is another promising area, but, with the exception of one very impressive project, Australia so far has lagged behind in development of electric power from either geothermal or solar thermal. Other countries with less well-developed electric utilities, but with low use land exposed to large amounts of sunlight, are now investing in or exploring the potential of such development, to include Greece, Egypt, Mexico, India, Morocco, Iran, Italy and Algeria.
After recently referring to a 2005 policy analysis from Greenpeace, which noted that two of the five most promising regions in the world for development of large scale, thermal solar projects are the Middle East and North Africa, I learned from Big
Snout Gav that Abu Dhabi has announced plans to build a 100-megawatt solar plant.
Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the world’s largest oil producers. Last year, the emirate began the Masdar Initiative; it wants to become a center for the development and the implementation of clean energy technology.
Despite initial skepticism and a few snickers, Abu Dhabi has sought to prove it is serious about clean energy. Masdar has already started a $250 million “clean technology fund” and begun construction of a special economic zone for the advanced- energy industry.
A molten salt system is a means to store thermal energy, thus mitigating the problem of an intermittent source for generating electricity at night or during cloudy weather.
Vinod Khosla (video link), who believes that application of concentrator technology is progress in the right direction, identified during his keynote address on innovation at the 2006 Solar Energy Conference, a main challenge for such development: energy storage. Utility scale systems become less cost effective and quite possibly impractical, when operated on an intermittent basis. Thus, the challenge to find low cost, high quality, thermal energy storage, so that the generators operate 24 hours a day every day.
“Electricity is expensive to store, but many of the things we make from electricity are not,” notes Engineer-Poet. There is coincident research into the storage of hydrogen and desalination of sea water. Inexpensive electricity generated from photo voltaic systems goes toward a supply of water split into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity then is re-generated and fed into the grid when the solar energy is unavailable.
As previously noted, for less developed areas where the expense of sophisticated generators inhibits project development, an alternative is using Stirling engines as generators.
Solar power advocates have noted that as the cost of photo voltaic cells decreases while their efficiency increases, another innovation in CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) may supersede thermal solar. The Masdar Initiative is one program interested in development of a combined, cost effective technology. PV/T (Photo Voltaic / Thermal) solar panels began at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1979, but are just beginning to appear commercially.
On 25 February 25 ADFEC (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), a wholly owned subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company, signed a cooperative agreement with MIT. The agreement will pave the way for MIT to assist Masdar in the development of a post-graduate educational and research institute, making it the first institution dedicated to research-driven graduate programs.
“The Masdar Institute will serve as the nucleus of the Masdar Initiative, feeding it with talent and innovative technologies to enhance economic development and promote new industries using renewable energy and resources in the emirate and the region,” said Sultan Al Jaber, CEO, ADFEC.
Earlier in February, Mubadala Development Company announced the closing on a USD$900Million contract to develop a ISCC (Integrated Solar Combined Cycle) plant in Algeria. Capacity of the gas-fired thermal power plant in the province of Tipaza, to the west of Algiers, will be 1227 MW, about 20% of Algeria’s current energy supply. Design work and construction activities for the new power plant already has started.
The project calls for the development, construction and operation of the plant and will be executed through Shariket Kahraba Hadjret En Nouss SpA (SKH SpA), a newly established company 51% owned by Algerian Utilities International Limited and 49% by three subsidiaries of the Government of Algeria: Sonatrach, Sonelgaz and Algerian Energy Company… Once the EPC work is completed in 2008, the electricity generated will be sold to Sonelgaz under a 20-year contract.
There is a certain irony here, since the country to which Abu Dhabi could turn for expertise is Israel or the United States, a chief ally of Israel. There is even greater irony in the UAE using the billions spent by American on imported oil to develop new renewable energy sources.