Other than the fact that the earth underneath the Middle East is drenched in oil, you wouldn’t think there was any reason why it wouldn’t be a prime area for solar power deployment. After all, vast stretches of undeveloped desert land are continuously baked by a relentless equatorial sun.
But it turns out that there are at least two reasons why, despite these obvious advantages, this region is less than ideal for solar power — explaining, at least in part, why its development of solar power has been slow. First, there is the sandy dust — coming in, driven by winds that constantly blow, lightly coating solar panels and reducing their efficiency on good days, and outright damaging them when those winds turn fierce.
The other problem is the heat. Most solar cells lose efficiency as temperatures rise, and there are few places on the planet where they rise higher than in the Middle East.
These concerns and others like them are what motivated the folks at Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, to establish the Masdar Solar Hub: a state-of-the art solar testing and R&D hub for photovoltaic and solar thermal technology. Masdar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mubadala Development Co., which is owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Established in 2006, Masdar is on a mission to advance the clean energy industry in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and around the world, as well as being a catalyst for the economic diversification of the emirate. The Masdar Solar Hub, which was launched in January, performs testing on solar energy and thermal storage equipment, evaluates prototypes evaluation, and monitors solar irradiance levels.
While these capabilities are applicable to solar technologies of all types, the fact that they are being tested in the harsh and demanding desert conditions of Abu Dhabi will help to identify those elements and enhancements that could improve performance and increase durability under these circumstances.
Some of these elements include surface coatings to protect the panels and keep dust from adhering to them. They will also include configurations designed to better manage the high heat levels — either by better utilizing it, in the case of solar thermal systems, or in the case of PV systems, dissipating it away — or utilizing materials that can perform well at high temperature.
The Masdar Solar Hub contains three primary functional areas. These are: the Photovoltaic Test Center, the Concentrating Photovoltaic Test Center and the Masdar Institute Solar Platform.
As the name implies, the Photovoltaic Test Center evaluates performance and durability of all types of PV-related equipment and systems,
The CPV Test Facility is a joint initiative of Masdar and the Spanish organization Instituto de Sistemas Fotovoltaicos de Concentración (ISFOC). It provides testing and evaluation of CPV systems under Abu Dhabi’s environmental conditions.
Masdar Insititute’s Solar Platform provides a facility where researchers, universities and industrial partners carry out R&D activities to drive research, development and demonstration of solar thermal technologies such as concentrated solar power (CSP) and thermal energy storage (TES). Resources available at the facility include a Beam Down Concentrating Tower, a solar field, a hot-oil loop, a TES system, a solar irradiometer platform, compact linear Fresnel reflector, and a double effect absorption chiller for solar cooling research.
By providing these objective test facilities, the Masdar Solar Hub will help advance the development and implementation of solar energy, particularly in the Middle East, while raising public awareness and helping Abu Dhabi to meet its goal of generating 7 percent of its electric power using renewable sources by 2020.
Says Masdar CEO, Dr. Ahmad Belhoul: “Renewables comprise one of the UAE’s key national innovation strategy sectors, and it is our mandate to support Abu Dhabi’s growth as a global innovation focal point. Masdar’s Solar Hub, our company’s newest initiative, will prove invaluable to the solar industry’s entire value chain while enhancing Masdar City’s reputation as a leading clean technology cluster and innovation ecosystem.”
Image courtesy of Masdar
Disclosure: Author was the guest of Masdar as the winner of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week Blogging Competition in January 2015.