Masdar, Abu Dhabi's clean energy company, has completed groundwork for what is to be the world's biggest offshore wind farm - in London's Thames Estuary - as it refocuses its strategy at home to include energy drawn from the skies.
The company, which is building the 1 gigawatt array with partners Denmark's Dong Energy and Germany's E.ON, has built 22 of the 177 foundations planned for the Thames turbines and is on track to meet a target of installing 630 megawatts of power by the end of next year, Masdar said yesterday.
Progress on the London Array, as the farm is called, comes as Masdar revises its strategy to include wind power, alongside solar, to meet the emirate's renewable energy target. The company is unofficially tasked with implementing Abu Dhabi's goal of sourcing 7 per cent of its power from renewables within the next decade.
Masdar solicited offers from international companies for a potential wind farm in the emirate despite concerns that Abu Dhabi did not offer enough wind to make such power economically viable. New turbine designs, however, produce electricity even at moderate wind speeds.
"We were surprised," said Frank Wouters, the director of Masdar Power. "We arrived at a cost of electricity which was a lot better than we had expected. From our thinking that there was modest wind in Abu Dhabi, we actually realised that it's a lot better … It is the lowest-cost option now in Abu Dhabi.
"So again we had to change the technology road map. Within a period of two years we had to rethink and adapt to the market," he recalled of the revision to Masdar's strategy in 2009, when solar power was seen as the most promising option for the region. "It will not be a fixed plan for the next 10 years. What we have right now is various options and snapshots of how you can do it."
But to bring wind power to Abu Dhabi, Masdar will need approval from the Government.
Planned projects, including a 16 to 30mw wind farm on Sir Bani Yas Island and a solar farm, capable of producing at least 100mw in the Western Region, are awaiting the go-ahead from Abu Dhabi's Executive Council.
Masdar so far has been able to proceed only on Shams 1, a 100mw solar farm in the Western Region that required a special "green payment" from the Government to become economically viable. The question now is whether the Government will finance such payments for other renewable energy projects.
"The Executive Council needs to decide if it pays the green tariff," said Nick Carter, the director general of the Regulation and Supervision Bureau, Abu Dhabi's utility regulator. "Maybe as we get more comfortable with the work and the challenges around these various projects we can become better at judging if they are economical."