The United Arab Emirates’ first floating solar power plant will start producing electricity off the tiny resort island of Nurai within days.
The performance of the pilot facility, which has a capacity of just 80 kilowatts, will be an important test case for similar projects in the region, which has historically been heavily reliant on revenue from oil and gas production.
Dubai’s man-made islands and parts of the Maldives could also benefit from floating solar power as a way to generate low-carbon electricity without sacrificing precious beach land, according to the chief executive of the company that built the project.
Installing and maintaining solar power panels at sea is expensive, costing around three times more than land-based projects, Stefan Muckstein, the chief operating officer of Enerwhere, said in an interview.
Then there are the technical issues to grapple with. “Dealing with waves and corrosion offshore is obviously a lot more challenging technically than installing solar panels on a roof or flat piece of desert,” Muckstein said.
“But for a resort island like Nurai this is still far better than taking up valuable beach real estate which tourists are willing to pay much more for.”
The project will also provide useful information on the benefits of locating solar panels at sea, Muckstein said.
Reflected light from the surface of the sea and the cooling effect of the water washing over the panels could improve their efficiency. This is a particular bonus in the Middle East where photo-voltaic solar projects often suffer from over-heating.
UAE state-run energy agencies have shown some interest in developing floating solar technology.
Last year, Dubai’s government-run utility awarded a consultant contract to Germany’s Fichtner Group for a planned floating solar project at an unspecified location.
Clean-energy developer Masdar, which is owned by Abu Dhabi’s government, is building Indonesia’s first floating solar project.
However, the country’s largest solar projects will continue to be built on the empty desert land found in plentiful supply just beyond its high-rise cities.