More than 600 guests attended, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Other dignitaries present included Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister; Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior; and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
The President yesterday expressed his support for the project, calling it “a strategic investment” for the UAE.
“Expanding our leadership into renewable sources of power demonstrates the commitment of the United Arab Emirates to maintaining its position as a major provider of energy,” he said. “The inauguration of Shams 1 is a major milestone in our country’s economic diversification and a step toward long-term energy security.”
With a capacity of 100 megawatts – enough to power 20,000 homes – Shams 1 covers 2.5 square kilometres in Madinat Zayed in the Western Region.
With the push of a button, to rounds of applause, Sheikh Khalifa officially started the plant before stepping out on to an outdoor terrace overlooking the solar field.
To harness the power of the sun, Shams 1 relies on a solar field large enough to fit 285 football fields.
Giant curved mirrors concentrate solar light on to a small glass tube, collecting heat. This is then used to power an electric turbine and produce power.
The plant relies on a small amount of natural gas to boost its efficiency during the day. This also allows it to generate electricity at night.
If the plant’s power was produced using fossil fuels, it would involve pumping 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Producing the same amount of power using sunlight is the equivalent of planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 cars off the road every year.
With the completion of Shams 1, the UAE now has about 68 per cent of the total solar power capacity in the Arabian Gulf and nearly 10 per cent of the world’s installed capacity of concentrated solar power, said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of clean-energy company Masdar and Minister of State.
Masdar developed Shams 1 with the help of a French oil company, Total, and Abengoa of Spain, which specialises in the engineering and construction of projects in the power and water sectors.
Each of the two partners owns a 20 per cent stake in the Shams Power Company, which developed the plant. The remainder belongs to Masdar.
“The inauguration of Shams 1 is a breakthrough for renewable energy development in the Middle East and contributes to maintaining the position of the United Arab Emirates as a constructive force for stability and development,” said Dr Al Jaber.
Philippe Boisseau, president of marketing and services and new energies at Total, said the French oil company’s decision to invest in the project stemmed from a partnership with Abu Dhabi that was now more than 70 years old.
Like the emirate, the French oil company believes the current energy mix needs to be diversified, said Mr Boisseau.
“We absolutely share the same vision that Abu Dhabi has of the need to diversify the energy mix,” he said.
“Our vision is really that all energies are necessary to supply the world with energy, that only one is not enough, that you need a combination of all. The energies are not competing against one another, they are really complementary to one another.”
Santiago Seage, chief executive of Abengoa Solar, said Shams 1 would likely inspire other countries in the region to follow suit.
“Shams is, and will be, a key achievement in the region, not only in the UAE. It starts an era of renewable energy in many countries around us,” he said. “Many leaders in the region are convinced now that they need to follow the path Masdar initiated with our small collaboration and we hope that we will see many other renewable energy power plants.”