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$13.6B record-breaking solar park rises from Dubai desert

$13.6B record-breaking solar park rises from Dubai desert

Published 25th April 2019
In the desert outside Dubai, a giant solar park is rising. Plans are in place to erect solar panels and concentrated solar power arrays with a cumulative capacity of 5,000 megawatts -- what would be the largest single-site solar park in the world. For more on solar megaprojects around the world, scroll through the gallery... Credit: DEWA
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, viewed via Google Earth. The park started with a 13-megwatt photovoltaic array in 2013, adding 200 megawatts in phase two and 800 megawatts in phase three (due for completion in 2020). Dubai Electricity and Water Authority say the total investment for the solar park could reach $13.6 billion. Credit: Google Earth
The largest photovoltaic park in the world at the time of writing, Tengger in Zhongwei in the northern autonomous region of Ningxia, China has a reported capacity of 1,547 megawatts. Development started in 2012 and comprises 45 interconnected projects, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Credit: Google Earth
With over 4.5 million photovoltaics and a 1,000-megawatt capacity, Kurnool was, for a time, the largest operational solar power station in 2017. India is investing heavily in solar power with its National Solar Mission. By the end of 2018, national on-grid capacity stood at just over 26,000 megawatts, per the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Credit: Google Earth
Connected to the grid in June 2017, Panda Green Energy's solar farm puts the animal after which it's named on the map. The solar arrays form the shape of two giant pandas, and over 25 years the company say the 100-megawatt park can produce 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of energy. But the Datong site is only a tiny fraction of the company's massive 2,110-megawatt, 68-power plant portfolio, as of June 2018. Credit: Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images
A wider view of the Panda plant with other facilities, southeast of Datong. The Datong Solar Power Top Runner Base has a reported output capacity of 1,070 megawatts. Credit: Google Earth
Located in the Mojave Desert, Ivanpah was the largest concentrated solar power facility in the world when it opened in 2014. Its three 450-foot towers are topped with water tanks, which are boiled by intense reflected sunlight and can create enough steam to generate 392 megawatts of electricity, per the US Department of Energy. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Built with Huawei Technologies solar know-how, the Yanchi Ningxia Solar Park has a 1,000-megawatt capacity and was the largest single photovoltaic plant in the world when it opened in 2016, according to the IEEFA. Credit: Huawei FusionSolar
Inaugurated in March 2018, the Infinity 50 Solar Park in southern Egypt is the first of a reported 32 stations that will comprise the Benban Solar Park. Benban's total capacity once completed has multiple projections, from 1,465 to 1,650 to 1,800 megawatts. Credit: Oliver Weiken/picture alliance/Getty Images
An aerial view of Benban in construction via Google Earth. Earlier in 2019 other solar farms at the 14-square mile site announced completion, including the 186-megawatt plant by ACCIONA Energía and Enara Bahrain Spv Wll. Sixteen plants funded by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development aim to contribute 750 megawatts of the total output capacity. Credit: Google Earth
When completed, the Pavagada Solar Park will generate a massive 2,000 megawatts say its developers Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Limited. The park is divided into 40 blocks each contributing 50 megawatts, with the developers claiming the whole 2,000 megawatts will be connected to the grid by June 2019. Credit: Google Earth
Captured by NASA's Landsat 8 satellite in January 2017, the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in Qinghai province has a capacity of 850 megawatts. At the time the site had a reported 4 million solar panels, part of a wider effort by China to produce 110 gigawatts of solar power by 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
With 2.5 million solar panels, the Enel Green Power-operated park near the town of Villanueva has a capacity of 754 megawatts. The plant was inaugurated in March 2018 when the first portion of the site became operational, with the developer claiming it offsets over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and generates enough electricity for over 1.4 million Mexican homes. Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Also known as the NP Kunta Ultra Mega Solar Park, the 7,180-acre project will have a capacity of 1,500 megawatts when completed. Local news reported the start of power generation in May 2016. Credit: Google Earth
The Noor-Ouarzazate Solar Power Station in Morocco is the largest concentrated solar power site in the world, producing enough electricity to power a city the size of Prague. Spread across 3,000 hectares -- equivalent to 3,500 soccer pitches -- its 580-megawatt output saves the planet from over 760,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Masen
The Noor-Ouarzazate pictured in 2016 before the erection of the concentrated solar power tower. Morocco's ambitious green energy target is to produce 42% of its power from renewable sources by 2020 -- as of February 2019 it was already producing 35% from renewables. Credit: FADEL SENNA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Conceived by the Madhya Pradesh state government in 2016, the 750-megawatt Rewa plant was built with the help of a loan from the World Bank. It began supplying electricity in July 2018. Credit: Google Earth
The Solar Star projects in Kern County were completed in 2015 and comprise of 1.7 million photovoltaic modules with a 586-megawatt capacity -- enough energy to power 255,000 average-sized households in California, according to BHE Renewables. Credit: Woody Welch/Sunpower
Built on top of a fishery in Cixi, China, the Hangzhou Fengling Solar-Fish Farm was completed in 2017 at a reported cost of $262 million. Spread across 300 hectares, the farm has a capacity of 200 megawatts. Credit: Google Earth
Pictured in 2017, this $400 million photovoltaic park has 1.3 million solar panels and a capacity of 80 megawatts -- among the largest in in the world when it was completed in 2010. The site is also home to a number of environmental initiatives including five honeybee colonies with an estimated 400,000 bees, introduced in 2018. Credit: James MacDonald/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Nellis Air Force Base's solar initiative combines the 13.2-megawatt Nellis Solar Star and 15-megawatt Solar Array II Generating Station, allowing the base to be energy independent on sunny days according Nevada Energy. Eight robots (pictured) clean the panels using 75% less water than manual methods -- and can clean all 43,000 within two days. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Written by Tom Page, CNN Max Burnell, CNN
Under the Arabian sun, a monumental construction effort is making headway. Located deep within Dubai's desert interior, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park -- named after the emirate's ruler and the UAE's vice president and prime minister -- continues to grow and has just passed another milestone.
In its eighth year of development, satellite images give a sense of scale already: miles of photovoltaics arranged along neat east-west lines, their uniformity at odds with the creases and crinkles of the sands surrounding the energy plant. Once finished, Dubai Energy and Water Authority (DEWA) told CNN the 50 billion-dirham ($13.6 billion) investment could power as many as 1.3 million homes, reducing carbon emissions by 6.5 million tonnes annually.
First announced in 2012 and with a scheduled completion date of 2030, the 5,000-megawatt solar park will take three times as long to finish as the Burj Khalifa. Phases one and two, which are already complete, comprised 2.3 million photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 213 megawatts. Phase three, deep in construction, adds over 3 million photovoltaics and another 800 megawatts, and will be completed in 2020, say DEWA.
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But after years of spreading out across the desert floor, the solar project is now rising upward with phase four -- perhaps the most ambitious development yet.
After breaking ground in March 2018, the base is now complete for what DEWA claims will be the tallest concentrated solar power (CSP) tower in the world.
It will use mirrors called heliostats to focus sunlight at the top of the tower, in order to heat up a flow of molten salts. The heat is used to power steam turbines, generating electricity.
"Typically, CSP will have efficiencies which are slightly higher than photovoltaics (PVs)," Christos Markides, professor of clean energy technologies at Imperial College London, told CNN. CSP stores energy as heat rather than in batteries. "Thermal energy storage is something like 10-times cheaper than electrical energy storage," he explained. "That gives that particular technology an advantage."
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Practically speaking, it means CSP can continue to create electricity even without the sun and well into the night. Dubai's tower can store heat for 15 hours and will be able to provide power 24 hours a day, said DEWA. The CSP tower will top out at 260 meters (853 feet) when completed, DEWA added, and will be surrounded by 70,000 heliostats.
A digital rendering of the concentrated solar tower planned for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. Credit: DEWA
In addition to the 100-megwatt CSP tower, phase four will supply another 850 megawatts of power via parabolic troughs (another form of CSP) and photovoltaics. It was recently announced that phase five's 900 megawatts of photovoltaics will be commissioned in stages starting 2021, while remaining installations to bring the park up to its end goal of 5,000 megawatts are still in planning.
With a capacity of 1,963 megawatts, phases one to four alone put the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park high on the list of largest-capacity solar parks in development around the world. The Ladakh Solar Farm in India will produce 3,000 megawatts when operational in 2023, per the World Economic Forum. At the time of writing, the 1,547-megawatt Tengger Desert Solar Park in Ningxia, China is considered the largest operating photovoltaic park in the world.
Tengger Desert Solar Park in China, captured by satellite via Google Earth. Credit: Google Earth
But building to these colossal proportions is only part of the battle. Resilience -- combating hostile climates and the ravages of time -- is also key.
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"Dust remains a significant challenge," DEWA told CNN via email, "as dust accumulation on modules can substantially reduce the power generation of those modules." The government department said as well as studying panel coating technologies it is implementing "a dry robotic cleaning system to clean the whole plant in a very short time."
Markides also said temperature is an important factor: "(Photovoltaics) degrade faster if the temperatures swing wildly between, say, very cold and very hot -- and they also degrade if the temperatures particularly become very hot." In Dubai, summer temperatures can move from the high-40s Celsius in the day to mid-teens at night.
The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 is working towards generating 25% of its energy output from clean sources by 2030, and 75% by 2050 -- equivalent to a capacity of 42,000 megawatts.
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