Haze and dust over Abu Dhabi and a drop in costs for solar panels have caused Masdar, the Government’s alternative energies company, to rethink solar technologies planned for the emirate
Solar-thermal technology, in which the sun’s heat is used to boil water and power a conventional turbine, was expected to make up 90 per cent of solar capacity when the Government announced in January a goal to generate 7 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020.
But this year’s plunge in costs for photovoltaics (PV), a competitor technology, and the effects of haze and dust on solar thermal performance mean the country now plans to build both technologies equally, said Olaf Goebel, a department manager at the firm’s utilities and asset management unit.
“We think it will be a mixture of concentrated solar power and photovoltaics, approximately 50-50,” Dr Goebel told a clean technology conference in the capital, hosted by past students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“PV is cheaper these days because they’ve already experienced a shake-out of the market.”
Both technologies have their advantages: PV, which generates electricity directly from the sun’s rays, is cheaper to buy and maintain, and less susceptible to diffusion of sunlight caused by dust and haze, Dr Goebel said. But solar thermal produces more electricity in a year, and energy can be stored for use after the sun sets.
“A PV plant will be one third cheaper but it will produce 20 per cent less kilowatt-hours (kwh),” he said.
Sgouris Sgouridis, an assistant professor at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, said last month diffusion of sunlight reduced the efficiency of solar thermal between 15 per cent and 20 per cent in computer modelling of sites in Abu Dhabi.
Prices for PV systems have dropped between 45 and 60 per cent this year because of an oversupply in the market, said Goran Bye, the director of Masdar’s industries unit.
Mr Bye predicted prices for each kwh of electricity generated by PV over its lifetime would fall to between $0.10 (Dh0.40) and $0.15 by 2020. That compared with at least $0.20 in other countries.
Costs for solar thermal will drop as well, said Samer Zureikat, the managing director of MENA Cleantech, which is planning a 100 mw plant in Jordan.
Mr Zureikat predicted costs for solar thermal in the region would fall to $0.15 per kwh over the next five years.
Both technologies cost far more than the current cost in Abu Dhabi of generating electricity from natural gas, which amounts to $0.056 per kwh, according to documents submitted by Masdar and published on the website of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.