Total SA and Abengoa SA, the European energy producers behind the Middle East’s largest concentrated-solar plant, intend to expand further in the region as governments promote renewables to free up oil for export.
The execution of solar programs in the Middle East would bring “thousands of megawatts and billions of dollars in investment,” Santiago Seage, the head of Abengoa’s solar unit, said at yesterday’s inauguration of the plant in Abu Dhabi. The unit plans to bid on more projects in the region, he said.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are developing renewables to meet the growing energy demands of burgeoning populations and economies. Adding clean-power generators may help oil-rich nations in the region to conserve more of their crude and gas for export, reducing their use of the fuels to generate power that’s sold at subsidized prices.
“The number of countries that want solar power is accelerating,” said Philippe Boisseau, president of new energies at Total. The Paris-based company plans to increase investments in Middle Eastern renewable energy, he said.
The new $750 million concentrated-solar plant, which Total and Abengoa developed with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, will produce 100 megawatts of power by harnessing the sun to heat liquids and create steam to turn turbines. That differentiates the facility, called Shams 1, from a photovoltaic plant, which uses panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity.
The Middle East’s most extensive renewable-energy program is in Saudi Arabia. The country is seeking about $100 billion in investments to generate about 41,000 megawatts, or a third of its power, from solar by 2032. That compares with about 3 megawatts now, which puts it behind Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates in capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Total will study concentrated-solar power, or CSP, and photovoltaic projects in Saudi Arabia and neighboring Qatar, Boisseau said. While PV is “probably the most economical technology for solar generation,” CSP allows energy to be stored because operators can stockpile heated liquids for use when the sun isn’t shining, he said.
The new Abu Dhabi plant, at a desert site west of the U.A.E. capital, uses so-called solar troughs, which contain 20-foot mirrors, to reflect the sun’s heat onto tubes holding oil. The tubes could span the 120-kilometer (75-mile) distance to the city of Abu Dhabi. The facility, which doesn’t yet have storage facilities, can still run 24 hours a day using natural gas to drive turbines when there’s no sun, Boisseau said.
Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned renewable-energy company, will also seek to take part in solar-plant tenders in Saudi Arabia, Chief Executive Officer Sultan al Jaber said yesterday.