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World’s Largest Solar Plant Opens In Oil Rich United Arab Emirates
March 19, 2013
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UAE Solar Farm Project.jpg
Photo: EPA via the Daily Mail

The oil-rich Arabian Peninsula is not a place you'd generally associate with alternative energy. But a new solar project in the United Arab Emirates could be a game-changer.

The project - called Shams 1 (arabic for "sun") - is an oasis of green technology in the Emirati desert and the world's largest solar energy plant.

The 100 megawatt plant will provide power to 20,000 homes at full capacity. It took three years and $600 million to build.

There are 258,000 mirrors to collect sunlight and project it onto a small area of absorber tubes, which then heat up fluid.

That produces steam, which triggers turbines to create electricity.

The project covers an area about the size of 285 football fields and takes advantage of the desert sun in a region that routinely sees temperatures above 40C during the summer.

Of course, in the desert, winds can whip up sand so the plant has specially-designed trucks - that resemble large street sweepers - to clean the reflectors and keep them running properly.

Shams Power Company reflector.jpg
Photo: Shams Power Company

The United Arab Emirates has the world's seventh largest oil reserves, but alternative energy, according to a BBC report, "could have a big role in the future".

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the head of Abu Dhabi Future Energy, which partnered with French and Spanish energy firms on the project.

He says "it's the first step of a strategic plan to diversify energy sources" in the United Arab Emirates.

Santiago Seage, CEO of Spain's Abengoa Solar, told the Daily Mail, "The Middle East holds nearly half of the world's renewable energy potential."

"The abundance of solar energy is an opportunity to integrate sustainable, clean sources of power that address energy security and climate change," he said.

"The region needs more projects like Shams 1, and we look forward to pushing the boundaries of future energy."

It's hoped that the energy produced by the plant will save 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year - equivalent to taking about 15,000 cars off the road.

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