x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Power play in Abu Dhabi

Torresol, the Emirati-Spanish JV that built the world's first solar plant to produce power 24 hours a day, hopes to bring the technology to Abu Dhabi next.

Torresol Energy, in partnership with Sener and Masdar, opened its solar tower in Andalusia in July. A similar plant could be built in Abu Dhabi, but Torresol has said it is too early to estimate how much a tower in the emirate would cost. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Torresol Energy, in partnership with Sener and Masdar, opened its solar tower in Andalusia in July. A similar plant could be built in Abu Dhabi, but Torresol has said it is too early to estimate how much a tower in the emirate would cost. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

The UAE-Spanish joint venture that built the world's first solar plant to produce power 24 hours a day hopes to bring the technology to Abu Dhabi next.

Torresol Energy, a solar venture between Abu Dhabi's Masdar and the Spanish family-owned company Sener, is working on the preliminary design of a 50 to 100-megawatt plant and hopes to pitch the idea to the emirate.

"We are optimistic," said Pedro Mugarra, the managing director of Sener in Abu Dhabi. "Obviously, Masdar, as a partner of Sener, is willing."

In July, Torresol's Gemasolar plant in Andalusia began producing power day and night with the help of molten salts that hold enough heat for power production for 15 hours. Thousands of mirrors reflect sunlight on to a single point atop a tower, where the molten salts capture the heat. The tip of the tower where the reflected sunlight is focused is so bright it can be seen from 40km away.

At 20 megawatts, Gemasolar is a fraction of the production of the first large-scale solar plant under construction in Abu Dhabi, the 100 megawatt Shams 1. The Gemasolar technology would have to be scaled up to meet Abu Dhabi's needs and could take five to 10 years to advance from drawing board to electricity delivery, said Mr Mugarra.

The emirate has set a target of drawing 7 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, a feat that requires building on average one 100-megawatt plant a year. Masdar, the clean-energy company owned by the Government's Mubadala Development, is behind the construction of Shams 1 and plans to pitch a second solar plant, called Nour 1, to the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

Since Abu Dhabi subsidises the cost of power produced by burning natural gas, renewables developers say they too require subsidies to make renewables competitive. Shams 1 was able to move ahead thanks to a "green payment" from the Ministry of Finance. Other countries have special tariffs to support solar projects, but amid the financial crisis and the falling cost of renewable-energy technology, governments including those of Spain and the Czech Republic have rolled back the supportive tariffs, endangering solar-panel manufacturers.

Mr Mugarra said it was too early to estimate the cost of a solar tower in Abu Dhabi. Torresol's three plants in Spain, including Gemasolar, cost a total of about €1 billion (Dh4.78bn) and were not affected by Spain's subsidy rollback last December, he said.

He was optimistic about the ability of such a project to attract financing in today's difficult economic climate. In March, Shams 1 pulled together US$600 million (Dh2.2bn) of bank loans, the largest financing package to date for a renewables project in the Middle East.

ayee@thenational.ae