World-record prices have become the default setting for large-scale solar development in the Gulf Cooperation Council region. At the forefront of this development is the United Arab Emirates, which has led the way with its Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. And, as the latest stage of the vast project reveals, intelligence, optimization and ongoing high performance is making all the difference.
September 29, 2021
The multi-stage and multifaceted Mohammed bin Rashid (MbR) Solar Park in Dubai has been a trailblazer in many ways. Not only has the vast PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) project set the agenda for large-scale solar deployment in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, but it has also set records for low levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) in the process, while fostering the development of large-scale solar throughout the Middle East.
The eventual 5 GW MbR project has also been at the forefront of solar technological demonstration at scale. Once completed it will be the largest solar project in the world. Over its various stages, the MbR project proponents have deployed thin-film module technologies, dual-glass crystalline silicon modules on single-axis trackers, and bifacial technology.
The 950 MW Phase IV of the MbR Solar Park, being executed by ACWA Power, DEWA, and SRF under the Noor Energy 1 PSC project vehicle, is implementing the only two CSP technologies in the MbR solar park, alongside 250 MW of PV. The project is the world’s largest CSP plant, hosting the world’s tallest central tower. Remarkably, it achieves an LCOE of $0.073/kWh for nonstop dispatchable power, making it “a competitor against unsubsidized fossil fuel generated electricity, generating reliable and dispatchable nonstop clean energy through the day and night,” explains Abdulhameed Al Muhaidib executive director, portfolio management at ACWA Power. The 950 MW project will additionally have 12 to 15 hours of energy storage capacity.
These innovations, along with the most bankable of offtakers and access to flat, easily accessible land, has resulted in MbR project stages regularly setting records for world-beating PPA prices for solar. The 200 MW Phase II of the project set a record with a PPA tariff of $0.0561/kWh. Going further still, the 800 MW Phase III of MbR achieved a strike price of $0.0299/kWh – another world record at the time of financial close in June 2017.
Inside MbR innovation
Beyond the module, the MbR Solar Park has utilized innovative power electronics, O&M technologies, such as robotic cleaning, and ownership structures to achieve low prices. The 200 MW Phase II was the first in Dubai to be developed via a public-private partnership. Phase III used 1,500 V architecture and inverters – an early application of higher voltages at the time.
The 250 MW PV component of Phase IV also pushed the boundaries of technology innovation. The plant utilizes bifacial modules, delivering impressive power output with the relatively high albedo from the desert sands.
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Phase IV is also pushing the envelope in terms of power electronics and digitization.
“When it comes to the inverter and power stations, Noor Energy 1 is adopting the latest technologies from Huawei’s line of products, consisting mainly of the string inverters and Smart Transformer Stations that allow for a more modular system to be built on a fast-track basis,” says ACWA Power’s Abdulhameed Al Muhaidib.
“As we strive for the best-in-class operations, we are optimizing our land use and leveraging digital tools and robotic solutions to ensure sustainable and reliable energy production throughout the lifetime of the plant.”
The decision by Noor Energy 1 to use Huawei’s string inverters for MbR Phase IV, was based on “lessons” and “past experiences” of the previous stages, says Al Muhaidib. In particular, the environmental conditions – which include extremely high operating temperatures and pervasive, fine dust.
“The main advantage that we see with the use of string inverters is the modularity of the system, which in turn allows for higher availability and less down-time for the plants as a whole,” says Al Muhaidib. “Not only that, but the string inverter brings in the advantage of operating at higher temperature thresholds and utilize cooling systems that require minimum attention and maintenance from the operator side – an advantage that truly shows its value throughout the operation of the plant.”
In terms of digitization, the Huawei power electronics platform, including its transformer station, provides advanced data analytics, delivering insights into the solar field’s operation and maximizing power output, reports the ACWA executive. And with Phase IV of the vast MbR Solar Plant poised to provide power for many hours after the desert sun has set, high performance and digitization will be key.
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