x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Powering the dream

Masdar City's energy will still be generated without emitting carbon, but the choice of technology remains undecided because of questions about the commercial viability of solar panels, company executives said.

Masdar City's energy will still be generated without emitting carbon, but the choice of technology remains undecided because of questions about the commercial viability of solar panels, company executives said. Masdar has a number of options being tested, including solar panels and a geothermal well that could provide hot water or power the city's air-conditioning systems, said Alan Frost, the director of the company's property development unit. "The view is, at the moment, that we're really backing off from bold statements about where exactly it's going to come from," he said. "If you were to put photovoltaics [solar panels] everywhere, then you can get to energy neutral, but the energy has to be cost-effective."

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology building in the first stage would have solar panels on the roof, while other buildings would be "panel-ready", he said. Masdar already operates a solar plant on site with capacity to generate 10 megawatts. The cost of solar technology is decreasing rapidly so it made little sense to buy all of the power capacity now, Mr Frost said. The city might also determine that it would be more cost-effective to rely on renewable energy generated off-site, such as large-scale solar plants being constructed by other divisions of Masdar, he said.

A key question was the level of support the company would get from the Abu Dhabi Government to offset the higher cost of generating electricity from renewables. The Government has set a goal of generating 7 per cent of the emirate's electricity from renewables by 2020, but has not yet created a subsidy plan for that goal. One proposal under study is the creation of a feed-in tariff, a system in which owners of solar panels are paid a premium for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they generate.

"We've always understood that there will be some sort of a feed-in tariff, and that obviously has to factor in our calculations," Mr Frost said. "A lot of people, including the rest of Abu Dhabi, would like to know what the feed-in tariff will be." Masdar is drilling on site for geothermal heat, and Mr Frost said the firm would know by June whether the well would yield enough heat to be used by the city.

@Email:cstanton@thenational.ae