Solar power in the Middle East

Paul Boughton

Despite the fall in oil prices, investment in solar power in the Middle East is expected to reach a new peak in 2015. Sean Ottewell reports.

The majority of electricity generated in the Middle East comes from natural gas. However, according to the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), when compared to oil, solar is able to compete on commercial grounds.

For example, the organisation points out that the price of electricity from the second phase of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid solar park in Dubai is equivalent to a conventional power plant burning oil priced at roughly US$20 (€18.50) per barrel.

Solar power plants also produce almost no carbon dioxide or other pollutants, it adds.

MESIA expects the solar market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to reach a new level of growth in 2015, with over 1500MW of projects being tendered during the year.

There are three main drivers for this. First is an increase in the size of solar projects – typically from the 1-10MW range to the 10-100MW range. In 2013 only three projects in the MENA region were larger than 10MW. In 2015 that number is expected to soar to 40.

A good example of a driver for this change is found in Egypt, where aging gas-fired generating infrastructure is making solar and wind more appealing options. Last year the government there unveiled a programme to see the introduction of 2000MW of large-scale photovoltaic power projects and 300MW of rooftop solar power projects. 176 companies responded to the invitation to tender.

The US$750 million (€690 million), 100MW solar thermal power plant planned for Kom Ombo, Aswan, is part of the Egyptian government’s commitment to improve its use of renewable energy resources. The country’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy plans to cover 12% of electrical power demand using such resources by 2020.

As part of this strategy, the New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) has focused on a number of renewable generation projects that focus primarily on solar and wind resources. The NREA is currently completing its technical, financial, environmental and social impact reports on the Kom Ombo project.

Should these be positive, the plan is to build a facility that will consist of concentrated solar arrays covering an area of 3.5 km2. A three-stage process begins with the collection of solar energy which will be used to generate steam. The second stage involves heat transfer fluid loops. Here, the temperature of special oil in the receiver is about 400ºc and the pressure 12 bar. Then the oil is pumped to a heat exchanger to generate super-heated steam which in turn is passed to the turbine. Finally there is thermal storage. By using molten salt as the storage technology with two-tank (hot and cold) technology, thermal energy can be stored during the day and then be used to generate steam at night.

When commissioned the project should generate 385 million KWh/y of electricity, saving Egypt about 90,000 tonnes of oil equivalent, while reducing the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 200,000 tonnes/y.

The second driver for the expansion in solar energy in the MENA region is the unpredictable price of oil. “Power plant operators do not like vast swings in fuel prices … solar power on the other hand is much more predictable; the fuel price is always the same: zero,” notes MESIA.

Finally is the difference in economic models between solar and oil. MESIA points out that as demand for fossil fuels goes up, so do prices. But with solar, as consumption goes up, prices come down because of the economies of scale involved. Plus, as demand for solar booms in the region, prices will continue to fall, regardless of the price of oil.

Among the other major projects likely to proceed in 2015 are: a further 500MW of capacity in Egypt, a 200MW project for the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jordan, and a 200MW project for the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN). At the other end of the scale are local, roof-top projects including a 0.4MW scheme for mall heating in Qatar and a 1MW scheme for the Al Ain hospital in UAE.

One smaller project already completed in 2015 is Saudi Aramco’s installation of its first rooftop solar voltaic system - on an office in Dhahran. The company’s stated aim is to reduce non-industrial energy consumption by 35% by 2020 through the installation of energy efficient LED lights, the testing and installation of solar panels and other renewable energy sources, and the application of new standards and requirements related to thermal insulation in homes and buildings.

The solar installation consists of 144 PV modules interconnected to the existing electrical system, ensuring the delivery of about 35 kilowatt peak (kWp) of power. Over its lifespan, the project will generate 1.2 million kWh of clean energy, mostly during peak-demand time of the day, when energy is most needed.

One millionth PV solar module delivered to Copper Mountain project

The Energy Alternatives Division of Cupertino Electric  has reached a major installation milestone on Sempra US Gas & Power and Consolidated Edison Development’s 250MW Copper Mountain Solar 3 project located in Boulder City, Nevada.

Working alongside international engineering and project management company Amec Foster Wheeler, Cupertino Electric has installed one million photovoltaic (PV) solar modules on the 1400-acre, fixed tilt, ground-mount project that broke ground in early 2013.

“This is a significant project in the solar market,” said Tom Dodson, vice president, construction for Amec Foster Wheeler. “We are delighted to have partnered with Cupertino Electric to leverage our global design, engineering and project management expertise to jointly deliver this prominent project to Sempra US Gas & Power and Consolidated Edison Development.”

Cupertino had previously with Sempra US Gas & Power on the Copper Mountain solar 2 project as an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) specialist. “We were pleased to continue our successful run on this latest project,” said John Curcio, Cupertino’s chief commercial officer.

“As our portfolio of utility-scale solar projects we have worked on has grown exponentially in the last few years, so has our ability to innovate and safely deliver the highest-quality solar projects across the US on schedule for the best value. We are proud to work with Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, Consolidated Edison Development and Amec Foster Wheeler on what we believe will prove to be the gold standard for solar project design and construction.”

Recent Issues