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.

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