Middle East beginning to embrace solar energy
ABU DHABI (AP) - Covering nearly 300 football fields in a remote patch of desert, the Shams 1 solar project carries plenty of symbolic significance for the United Arab Emirates.
It will be the first, large-scale solar project in the oil-rich country when it is completed at the end of the year, and the largest of its kind in the Middle East. At full capacity, the 100MW, concentrated solar project will be able to power 20,000 homes. For those behind the project, it's the surest sign yet that solar is coming to the region in a big way.
"We truly believe solar will be a major contributor to meeting our own requirements," said Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the UAE's Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change and the chief executive officer of government-funded Masdar, which is the majority investor in the project.
"We are not like many other countries today that are in desperate need for complimentary sources of power," Jaber said, adding Abu Dhabi plans to generate 7 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020. "We are looking at it from strategic point of view ... we want to become a technology player, rather than an energy player." With its vast deserts and long stretches of sunny days, the Middle East would seem to be an ideal place to harness solar energy. But until now, the region has largely shunned solar because it has cost about three times more than heavily-subsidized fossil fuels. There are also few laws in place to regulate solar power and it faces some unique technological hurdles, given the Middle East's harsh climate, which is much hotter and dustier than say Europe, where solar thrives.