Masdar chief on solar energy investment

24 July 2008

Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive officer of the Masdar initiative, explains the strategy for solar energy investment in Abu Dhabi and overseas.

Q: Can you tell us more about the solar initiatives Masdar has under way such as technologies used and joint venture partners involved?

A: Our ambitions in the solar field are as limitless as the sun’s source of energy. Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) is making a series of investments and establishing partnerships across the whole solar value chain. Our objective is to accelerate the development and deployment of one of the most promising renewable energy technologies, and make it an affordable reality as soon as possible.

Our investments and partnerships to date include:

  • Torresol Energy, a joint venture of Spain’s Sener and Masdar

  • Masdar PV, a multi-billion-dollar investment in thin-film photovoltaic (PV) solar manufacturing

  • A major PV testing facility evaluating more than 30 different PV panels for Middle Eastern and similar climate conditions

  • Planning for Masdar City to be 100 per cent supplied by renewable energy - PV, concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, waste-to-energy and other technologies

  • Conducting research and industry partnerships in solar through Masdar Research Network

Q: At what stage are these projects?

A: Masdar PV is actively rolling out phase one of its $2bn plan to produce 1GW annually of thin-film PV. This phase involves an investment of $600m, funding the development of two manufacturing facilities. The first, in Erfurt, Germany, will be operational by the third quarter of 2009, and a second, in Abu Dhabi, will begin initial production by the third quarter of 2010. The combined annual production capacity of these two sites will be 210MW, which is committed to major PV system installers in Europe, and for Masdar’s own energy generation needs.

Masdar chose Germany as the site for its first plant because Germany is currently the centre of the global PV industry. This German plant will act as a reference plant for technology and knowledge transfer to the larger Abu Dhabi plant.

Additionally, Torresol Energy currently has three projects under development in Spain with a combined value of €800m ($1,262). The company also has a strong pipeline of potential projects in the US and North Africa. Torresol is a global leader in CSP. The first project being built by the company is called Gemasolar and will use game-changing central receiver technology -which uses uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat onto a central tower unit. The other two Spanish projects will use the more conventional ‘parabolic trough’ technology.

Furthermore, the independent testing of PV panels to determine which are the most efficient and effective is currently 75 per cent complete. There are more than 30 PV panels from major system producers from around the world. Each panel’s performance is tracked to determine how it responds to heat, dust, humidity and in the varying conditions between summer and winter, and night and day.

The results of the test will deliver a huge benefit for the rest of region and indeed the world’s sun belt. Masdar is delivering on its commitment to share and help shape renewable energy markets by providing insight for the rest of the world.

Q: With regard to the solar energy plants, can you confirm who the preferred bidders are for the first 100MW power project in Abu Dhabi?

A: The selection process has not been completed and at this time we cannot disclose any further information on the names of the companies participating in the bidding process.

Q: On which markets will Torresol focus?

A: Torresol’s main action areas for the design, construction and commissioning of CSP plants will be in southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the southeastern US, where Torresol Energy will promote plants with a central receiver tower system based on experience from projects in Spain and Abu Dhabi.

In the short term, Torresol Energy will concentrate on the development of ongoing projects such as Gemasolar 2006 - a 17MW plant based on central tower technology -Termesol 50 and Arcosol 50 - two 50MW plants with parabolic troughs located in Seville and Cadiz, Spain. In the medium term, Torresol Energy will promote the construction of at least two concentrating solar energy plants a year. Thus the production base installed by 2010 will total nearly 320MW, approaching 1,000MW in 10 years.
Each Torresol Energy project will introduce and test new technologies with the aim of making CSP an economically competitive option and a real, viable, ecological and sustainable alternative to traditional power sources.

Q: Is Masdar investing in research and development of solar technology?

A: The Masdar Research Network is a unique collaborative research framework between Masdar, industry and leading global scientific institutions. The network encompasses the creation of a nucleus of world-class applied research in advanced energy and sustainability technologies, a mechanism for technology transfer and a vehicle for building absorptive capacity in the UAE.

It leverages the core research strengths of each partner to accelerate innovation and commercial development of the most promising technologies.

The network’s partners to date include : the UK’s Imperial College London; RWTH Aachen University, Germany; University of Waterloo, Canada; Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan; the German Aerospace Centre (DLR); and Ciemat Energy Research Centre, Spain. All bring advanced technologies and strong ties to the industry, allowing the network to develop, validate and finance a broad spectrum of clean energy and sustainability research projects.

Research tracks under way include photovoltaics (crystalline, thin-film and low-cost polysilicon); water technologies and management (desalination, membrane technologies, policies); solar/thermal technologies and carbon management (carbon capture and storage). Projects are jointly financed by Masdar and industrial partners selected by the host institution, with resulting know-how shared among the parties.

Q: What are the key milestones for Masdar’s solar projects?

A: The key milestone for Masdar is to begin producing renewable energy from solar sources. We expect to see this occurring within two years as the Torresol and Masdar PV projects take shape.

As these projects come on line and construction is completed, Masdar will emerge as a leading force in the renewable energy market. In addition, Masdar PV has a goal of reaching 1GW of annual production by 2015 through capacity expansions and other new plants. This multi-country operation will allow Masdar PV to become a global leader in thin-film PV.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?

A: There is enough energy emitted from the sun in a minute to meet the world’s energy needs for a whole year. We have the space, climate and commitment to make this a reality. Masdar is employing a basket of solutions to meet the challenge of the future of energy. The biggest challenge to be solved for the solar industry is driving the cost of solar towards grid parity. As this becomes a reality through investments like Torresol and Masdar PV, the world’s energy consumers will be faced with a choice of energy sources.

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