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Most of the world economy is build around the consumption of fossil fuel and over time; it has come to the attention of the world that overreliance on these energy sources is not sustainable.
The overuse of fossil fuels has led to environmental repercussions such as the global warming phenomena which the world currently faces. The UAE boasts of huge reserves of oil which are expected to last for many decades to come. Even so, the government is keen to diversify on its energy sources so as to ease its dependency on fossil fuels1. Power needs are experiencing strong growth in the UAE with research indicating that the energy demands of Dubai are going to double by the year 2015.
Solar energy which is a renewable natural resource has been earmarked as a feasible energy source to combat the problem of overreliance on fossil fuels. This report will discuss solar energy in the UAE with focus being given to the manner in which solar energy has been harnessed and used in the UAE.
Solar Energy in the UAE
The governments of the UAE have been devoted to looking for strategies to diversify their energy sources. Solar energy has emerged as a feasible solution since the United Arab Emirates has an abundance of solar radiation which makes solar power plants practical especially during summer time when the temperature levels are especially high.
Construction costs for solar generation plants remain significantly higher than those of thermal generation which makes solar plants unattractive for many investors. The government of Abu Dhabi has addressed this issue by offering incentives to solar energy produces so as to make solar plants commercially viable.
The success of the solar power initiatives in the UAE is largely attributed to the wide range of financial incentives that the UAE government has offered to the companies that are prepared to advance the growth and operation of solar energy plants2.
Implementation of Solar Energy
A number of technologies have been developed to assist in the harnessing of solar power form the sun. The UAE makes use of the two most popular technologies which are; thermal and photonic solar technologies.
- Concentrating Solar Power
The prevalent thermal solar technology used all over the world is the concentrating solar power technology and for large scale production of electricity, the UAE makes use of CSP power technology. This technology is developed on the basis that the sun’s raw radiation, while sufficient enough to heat surfaces, lacks the density required for the production of electricity3.
The density of the sun’s raw radiation therefore has to be significantly increased if solar energy is to be utilized for electricity production. The density is increased through concentrating which makes use of lenses or mirrors.
The concentrated solar energy is then used to provide electricity by using the high temperature heat to heat water into vapor which then turns turbines therefore generating electric power.
The CSP technology utilized in the UAE makes use of parabolic trough concentrators and solar towers to concentrate sunlight. In parabolic trough concentrators, trough-shaped parabolic mirrors which track the sun along a single axis are laid out on fields and used to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tube that contains a heat transfer fluid4.
The heat transfer fluid passes through a heat exchanger to produce high-temperature steam that powers a turbine. In the case of solar towers, a single receiver is place on top of a tower with a field of tracking mirrors, or heliostats, reflecting the sun’s rays onto the receiver.
These mirrors are adjustable and they use monitors to enable them to trace the sun’s motion across the sky therefore ensuring that they always receive the optimal level of radiation.
This concentrated sunlight is then moved to receiver tubes which contain a running heat transfer fluid. The heat absorbs is used to heat the liquid producing superheated steam which is then used to run conventional turbines to produce electricity5.
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- Photovoltaic (PV) systems
The UAE also makes use of photovoltaic systems which make use of solar panels to directly change solar energy into usable electricity. The electricity generated through PV systems can be used directly by end consumers or it can be channeled into the grid.
PV systems have low operation and maintenance requirements which make them very desirable. To increase the energy output of PV cells, mirrors and lenses can be used to concentrate the incoming solar radiation to the cells6. The UAE solar plant relies on large scale PV modules that will be used by the Masdar solar plant7.
The most effective silicon solar cells are made from “pure monocrystalline silicon” which is very expensive due to the sophisticated processes required to produce them8. Polycrystalline PV cells can act as alternatives since they are easier and cheaper to manufacture and hence commercially viable.
In the past years, the growth in PV systems has been deterred by the prohibitive cost of the technology. This has changed in part due to the significant decrease in silicon prices in recent years. The UAE has also made use of thin film technologies to supplement the use of refined silicon solar cells.
These technologies while having a downside of concerting less of the sun’s energy to electricity (11% compared to 20% for silicon panels) have the merits of lower costs and ability to capture diffuse light which makes them more efficient than silicon cells on cloudy days9.
Uses of Solar Power
The UAE has engaged in commendable efforts to make use of solar power as an alternative energy source. The UAE has in place a 10 MW solar photovoltaic plant that is acting as the primary electricity provide for the construction of Masdar City which is going to be a carbon-neutral city on completion.
The UAE experiences high demand for energy in buildings as a result of the hot climate which makes cooling a necessity for the comfort of building occupants. Air conditioning requires significant energy resources and solar energy can be used to meet this demands.
Traditionally, the cooling systems have relied on electricity produced through fossil fuels. This has led to increased use of fossil fuels as well as climatic degradation. THE UAE has made use of solar assisted absorption cooling which significantly reduces the energy consumptions of buildings.
A major problem that faces solar energy is that it requires high cost to produce as well as distribute. The government has come supported the moves to include solar generated electricity into the national grid.
As such, the solar generated electricity is used by domestic consumers as the electricity is sold to the grid. As of June 2009, the Masdar solar photovoltaic plant was linked to the Abu Dhabi electricity grid therefore delivering the solar generated electricity to industries and domestic consumers10.
Solar energy has also been used to power some industries during the day. This has been possible since the peak energy consumption of most industries is during the day which is also the time when the optimal levels of energy are achieved by solar plants since the sun radiates most heat during the day
Discussion and Conclusion
Solar energy resources are critical elements for the achievement of sustainable development and they will help the UAE to achieve important economic, environmental and social objectives. As it currently stands, technology has not been developed to efficiently harness solar energy so as to make it a feasible alternative source of renewable energy.
Even so, efforts are underway to improve the efficiency of solar energy. The solar power initiatives by the UAE have reduced the environmental impacts that the energy needs of the region cause. These initiatives are also bringing the region closer to achieving a sustainable energy future by reducing the dependency on fossil fuels.
This report set out to discuss the implementation of solar energy in the UAE. It has been documented that despite having an immense oil reserve within its boundaries, the emirates is determined to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels and make use of renewable energy sources.
By use of PV systems and concentrating solar power technology, the UAE has emerged as a leader in solar energy production in the Middle East. This report demonstrates that the UEA is ready to embrace renewable energy technology, specifically solar power, so as to achieve desirable environmental and economic objectives.
European Commission. Concentrating Solar Power: From Research to Implementation. Belgium: European Communities, 2007.
Gurmit, Singh. Exploit Nature-Renewable Energy Technologies. New Delhi: Aditya Books Pvt. Ltd., 2009.
Moselle, Boaz. Harnessing Renewable Energy in Electric Power Systems: Theory, Practice, Policy. New York: Earthscan, 2010.
Oxford Business Group. The Report: Abu Dhabi 2009. Oxford: Oxford Business Group, 2009.
1 Oxford Business Group, The Report: Abu Dhabi 2009 (Oxford: Oxford Business Group, 2009), 186.
2 ibid., p. 187.
3 European commission, Concentrating Solar Power: From Research to Implementation, (Belgium: European Communities, 2007), 7.
4 Boaz Moselle, Harnessing Renewable Energy in Electric Power Systems: Theory, Practice, Policy (New York: Earthscan, 2010), 10.
5 European Commission, op. cit., p. 9.
6 Boaz, op. cit., p.13.
7 Singh Gurmit, Exploit Nature-Renewable Energy Technologies (New Delhi: Aditya Books Pvt. Ltd., 2009), 348.
8 Boaz, op. cit., p. 13.
9 Oxford Business Group, op. cit., p. 186.
10 ibid., p. 186.