The large parabolic trough collector being built in Abu Dhabi may be the forerunner of a giant, 2GW, array.


The Abu Dhabi government’s Future Energy Company, more commonly known as Masdar, is developing what is likely to be the largest concentrating solar power (CSP) facility in the world, Shams 1 at Madinat Zayed about 150 km from the capital Abu Dhabi. Current plans are for an array of 100 MWe capacity, but there is also to be a Shams 2, taking the facility’s output to a level that will at least challenge Abengoa’s 250 MWe Solúcar site in Spain, if not surpass it. Ultimately the site’s capacity could be as high as 2 GWe. The facility, which was originally expected by Masdar to be operational by late 2010, will employ parabolic trough technology, with its steam output powering a steam turbogenerator. Cost estimates were initially estimated at around US$500m. The expectation is that Shams 1 will be one of several such facilities constructed in the UAE.

Masdar is also encouraging work on beam-down technology which might prove an efficient way of utilising solar power. In December it signed a deal with Cosmo Oil Company of Japan to build a 100 kW power plant using this technology.

Masdar is to buy the steam turbine, a 125 MW unit, from MAN Turbo. It will be the biggest that has ever been used for solar heat. The deciding factors behind purchasing this specific steam turbine were the range of reference projects with similar operational and efficiency requirements that MAN Turbo could offer and what it calls its ‘own concept’. However the company is not saying what this concept is, beyond claiming that it dramatically improves effectiveness and allows the entire solar power plant to work much more efficiently. Another benefit was the ‘high flexibility of the turbine that enables it to handle the special load cases that the customer requires’.

Masdar and MAN have both been involved in recent solar projects in Spain. Masdar has entered into a new joint venture in the solar business with Spain’s Sener Group de Ingenieria, Torresol Energy, which has been formed to work on the design and construction of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. The aim is to take the technology global, but the initial focus will be on projects in Spain. There, three power plants are planned, with total cost of these ventures expected to be US$ 800m. Masdar will hold a 40% stake in the new venture with the remaining shares held by Sener. MAN?Turbo has already proved its ability to combine with solar engineering at solar facilities in Spain. The parabolic trough power plants Andasol 3 in Andalusia and Ibersol in the southwestern section of the Iberian peninsula will use its steam turbines, each with a capacity of 50 MW.

Wider ranging plans

Shams 1 and the Sener joint venture fit neatly into Masdar’s broader energy investment programme. The company’s flagship is of course the under-construction Masdar City; ground-breaking took place in February last year. The city is designed to be carbon neutral, and will use electricity from CSP and the much smaller capacity photovoltaic cell plants. Successful development will enable Abu Dhabi to free up further oil resources for export, and, if the technology development is successful, find a considerable solar market elsewhere in the Gulf and in other sunny areas around the world.

New cost estimates

By October 2008, at close of bidding, Masdar had received four bids to build the Shams 1 solar power plant, the leading bid being from a consortium of Abengoa (Spain) and Total (France). The bid level was in the area of USD 650-675 million, a figure that Masdar decided was too high, and too high to negotiate down. They opened a new round of bidding, which closed in February, although this had the effect of delaying the whole project beyond its anticipated finish date of end-2010. This time the offers were much lower, mainly owing to dramatic reductions in materials costs, and Reuters reported that the winning bid, expected to be announced in May 2009, was likely to be between USD520 and 550 million, saving Masdar about USD 105 million.

Negotiations for the BOO contract are still ongoing, but it is now expected to be awarded at the end of September this year with project completion in Q2 2011.