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World’s largest concentrated solar power plant opens in the UAE


March 18, 2013

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power plant covers and area of 2.5 square km (1 sq mile)

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power plant covers and area of 2.5 square km (1 sq mile)

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Thanks to its low latitude and low percentage of cloudy days, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an ideal location for capturing solar energy. So it’s no surprise to see the world’s largest operating concentrated solar power (CSP) has launched in the sun-soaked Middle Eastern country. Officially inaugurated this week by UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Shams 1 is a 100 MW CSP that will power 20,000 UAE homes.

Construction on Shams (which is Arabic for "Sun") 1 began in the second half of 2010 at a site roughly 120 km (75 miles) southwest of Abu Dhabi. The power plant sees an area of 2.5 km2 (1 sq mile) covered with 250,000 mirrors mounted on 768 parabolic trough collectors. The parabolic mirrors focus sunlight onto oil filled pipes that are heat water and produce steam that is then used to drive a turbine. Being located in the middle of the desert, a dry-cooling system is used to keep water consumption down.

Built at a cost of around €460 million (US$595 million), Shams 1 is a joint venture between French petroleum company Total (20 percent), Spanish company Abengoa Solar (20 percent), and Masdar (60 percent). With the addition of Shams 1, Masdar, which was established to develop and manage Masdar City, is claiming to account for almost 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Shams 1 is a 100 MW concentrated solar power plant that will power 20,000 homes in the UAE...

Masdar claims Shams 1 will cut the UAE’s CO2 emissions by roughly 175,000 tonnes (193,000 tons) per year, which it equates to planting 1.5 million trees, or taking 15,000 cars off the road.

While Shams 1 can lay claim to the largest capacity CSP plant currently in operation, it isn’t likely to hold the title for long. CSP is “gathering steam” in many parts of the world, with no less than nine 100 MW or higher capacity CSP plants already under construction in the U.S., India and Morocco, and many more planned around the world.

The construction of Shams 1 can be seen in the video below.

Source: Masdar

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

Natural gas power plant would have cost them less than 2% of that outrageous amount, and it is clean enough. A proper solar panel or wind turbine farm would have been much more economical still.

Three quarters of a billion dollars to produce 100 MW. Joke of the century.

Samer Helmy
19th March, 2013 @ 03:08 am PDT

Is this method of generating electricity cheaper than PV? This looks an incredibly expensive exercise. All that massive equipment required for piping hot fluids around seems really unnecessary.

Compare with how PV works. If you gave the 20,000 households €10,000 each to spend on PV panels, you would save half the amount of money.

I think someone has being conned on this.

19th March, 2013 @ 08:28 am PDT

@Samer Helmy, you forget about 1 key element, you still have to buy natural gas. Also $595 million is not three quarters of a billion, if you are going to round in this case you would round down so it would be half a billion.

@windykites1 your numbers on PV may be right but the difference is PVs have a life span and eventually all of them will have to be replaced (though there replacements will likely be better and cheaper) concentrated solar power has lower costs for upkeep as it's essentially pipes, mirrors and turbines.

19th March, 2013 @ 08:50 am PDT

Sand and mirrors don't get along very well, even with the high wall around, a few good storms and the surfaces are bound to be damaged, not to mention the dust alone settling on & in everything .

Bob Flint
19th March, 2013 @ 10:16 am PDT

CSP also offers a second advantage by providing some shading to drip irrigated crops and even grazing animals such as cattle, goats or chickens. In this part of the world the cost of providing the water needed offsets the sizeable cost of importing food. There are already several CSP sites that are trying this out and maybe the costs & benefits would also make this "second crop" attractive here. Either way as long as the sun continues to shine there is energy available and that is simply not the case with any fossil fuel. So long as the initial capital investment is durable and affordable the site will produce energy. Mines, coal seams, and gas fields all produce energy, produce green house gases, ( it is more than just CO2), and all of them eventually play out.

19th March, 2013 @ 10:39 am PDT

I'd think a solar tower like they are building in Arizona would be a better choice:

that thing is even more expensive (750 million) for 200mW, compared to this CSP plant... 595 million for 100mW, but the solar tower is much less complicated and error prone. There are no moving parts at all, except for the [air] turbines. This CSP plant has the steam turbine, along with a large plumbing system and 768 parabolic trough collectors that have to move accurately to track the sun, that's a lot of moving parts and potentially problems and maintenance to do.

The solar tower at the cost of .75 billion dollars is projected to pay of its purchase price in 11 years, and operate without any major maintenance for 80 years... which is actually believable considering its mostly "solid state" e.g. a concrete structure. That's 69 years of free energy

19th March, 2013 @ 11:38 am PDT

NG costs about $2k/kw and while this one, Arabs always get screwed, costs too much, in the US 5x's larger, 500Mw one is going in, as others at under $3k/kw with no fuel cost and on demand output with it's heat storage.

So it'll clean a NG plant's clock within 2 yrs with almost free power after that. Please show me the NG one that can beat it over their 40 yr life?

Hell, all the NG will be gone, at least for burning, in 30 yrs with the most recent data and expected increased useage.

They overstated the oil/Ng shale output because the fracking/tight wells only last a yr before their output plunges to 10% in a few yrs. They had been expected to flow heavy for 10-20 yrs the early NG estimate was but that was very wrong.

Now it was also based on NG useage a few yrs ago but it will double in 5 yrs, cutting reserves 50% just in that.

So before the NG or CSP plants die of old age NG one won't have any fuel but the CSP has that big nuke in the sky ;^P

19th March, 2013 @ 05:23 pm PDT

This plant was built for the man with the cash if he is happy with it it is good.

This design is compatible with molten salt heat storage which does not wear out unlike electric batteries.

I am however surprised that the waste heat is not used to desalinate water.

19th March, 2013 @ 06:57 pm PDT

re; jerryd

The fact that the oil and gas companies are still Fracking calls your claims into question.

19th March, 2013 @ 08:10 pm PDT

It's good to see this sort of thing happening! Fossil Fuels are not clean and their extraction always damages someone's health and environment, everyone knows that. And Nuclear Power is not safe, the people of Japan and Chernobyl know that. And we are good at making Steam Powered generators so no need for a change of equipment there. I think the cost for Big Solar will go down considerably once manufacture begins on a large scale. I think investors will be getting long term guaranteed riches instead of risky short term gain with possible negative effects on their fellow man. It is about time we started thinking about making money and meeting our needs responsibly like a grown person instead of being childish money nerds who cannot see the forest for the trees.

AhVa Dub
19th March, 2013 @ 09:59 pm PDT

I love it - in a country where oil is cheaper than water, I'm absolutely pleased they are preparing for a peak-oil future. Electric cars will become commonplace and these plants will be their fuel.


20th March, 2013 @ 02:40 am PDT

re windykites1 "Is this method of generating electricity cheaper than PV?"

yes, in the SENSE that photovoltaic requires the use of noxious poisons & toxic minerals/compounds etc. in its manufacture, as well as being difficult to dispose of or recycle, ie, PV is the guaranteed "mercury pollution" of the next generation of Planetary inhabitants if allowed to continue, & the only reason it's getting such "mainstream"&governmental support is that it maintains the status quo by ensuring that populations are still reliant on mining corporations for their power supply.

20th March, 2013 @ 08:44 am PDT

@WindyKytes1 :- I hopefully can prove your premise

Cost of construction of a gas fired power station is 800USD/KWe give each home 8kwe (US consumption) for 20,000 homes

800*8*20000 = $128 million(

Cost of construction of solar power station is $595 million

i.e. 100MW = 100,000 KWe/20,000 leaves a grand total of 5kw per home.

So the initial outlay is nearly 6 times the cost of the equivalent gas plant for 2/3rds the amount of power in a country sitting on 800 years worth of gas and oil - essentialy they get this for free.

21st March, 2013 @ 08:17 am PDT

re; Ava Dub

Solar plants damage the environment as well and require a much larger footprint.

21st March, 2013 @ 11:07 am PDT

Ava Dub:

"And Nuclear Power is not safe, the people of Japan and Chernobyl know that."

You probably feel unsafe on airplanes vs an automobile as well right? Add up all the mercury and air pollution from coal from just the past 50 years and I bet many more people have died from lung/heart disease and suffered from asthma and mercury poison than people have been killed by Chernobyl and Japan. Since you're focusing on tragedies, you should include the coal miners killed every year in those numbers (and the likely upcoming cancer clusters from fracking during the next 10 - 20 years).

When you consider the sheer amount of power produced by nuclear plants, I think you will find they are quite safe vs the pollution caused by equivalent coal power plants, and probably NG too unless fracking magically *doesn't* poison the surrounding water tables in the next 10 - 20 years.

Also, for some reason I think nuclear power plants are still designed on a model that was intended to breed fuel for nuclear weapons. Inherently less stable than a design that doesn't produce enough neutrons per fission to cause a chain reaction (Thorium molten salt reactor where plutonium is a catalyst to keep the reaction going instead of a by-product that could cause an explosion). I'm for solar / wind, but don't dismiss nuclear out of fear...look to improve it. Why spend billions improving just solar when safer nuclear reactions (thorium salt) and safer nuclear plant designs would actually have a chance of meeting the world's energy designs....1 sq mile of CSP for 20k households. 7 billion people / 4 people per household = 1.75b households. Dividing by 20k households served by a 100 mW CSP = 87,500 of these projects or 87,500 sq miles to meet the world's household energy demands...Plenty of desert, but the deserts are not generally close to the population centers. Also, most of the world's air pollution comes from the container ships burning something akin to asphalt as fuel.

21st March, 2013 @ 11:26 am PDT


I agree that the deserts would provide all the power needed, new tranmission lines only waste 4% of current per 3000 miles and with the desertec solar concentrators the collection of solar power is economic. But this turns on its head in a country blessed with its own gas on tap, and until Thorium reactors become mainstream nuclear is the most expensive long term problem rather than solution. I am 75 miles from Sellafield(Windscale), Wyfla and 10 miles from Capenhurst all are problems waiting for a solution.

21st March, 2013 @ 04:13 pm PDT

If the cost of pumps, turbines etc is prohibitive this system can use Stirling engines to drive generators. They are used to generate power in some solar power stations in the US.

21st March, 2013 @ 05:14 pm PDT

I believe that arabs are smart.They have this uncanny ability to make people work hard.Even though shams 1 cost them about 750 odd million USD.They have in mind to start up an industry based on solar thermal and solar photovoltaic.So later on shams 2 ,shams 3 are all just in a line of plants where ultimately the cost will come down to 1/10 of the current costs now.So just imagine when the cost is something like 60 million USD for the same 100 MW.One of the worlds largest polysilicon plants is already coming up in Qatar.This is coming up there because even though the arabs could have bought polysilicon at below costs currently and stocked up huge,they went for their own facility because they want control .Ultimately even in the future ,the cheapest energy in the form of solar photovoltaic modules and solar thermal modules will come from the same middle east .That is the reality.

24th March, 2013 @ 10:58 pm PDT

"Solar plants damage the environment as well and require a much larger footprint.


Uh, no. Concentrating Solar Plants don't damage the environment.

Fracking does; drilling for oil does. Harvesting sunlight doesn't.

Plus, we ARE talking about deserts. Not that much to damage.

William Carr
3rd April, 2013 @ 02:05 pm PDT
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