Last week the United Arab Emirates switched on the world’s largest single solar power farm, the 1.18GW Noor Abu Dhabi. Costing near on USD900mln, at 8 square kilometres, the 3.2 million solar panel power plant is the brainchild of a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Government and a consortium of Japan's Marubeni Corp and China's Jinko Solar Holding. As a comparison, the US’s largest solar project, the Solar Star power plant in Rosamond, California, is spread over an area of 13 km square that uses a mere 1.7 million solar panels to generate 579 megawatts of electricity.
The new facility will supply electricity to 90,000 people and offset emissions amounting to 1 million metric tons - equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from the road. The UAE does not plan to stop there either. The Abu Dhabi Minister of Climate Change and Environment announced earlier this year plans for an even bigger solar project, this one having a 2 GW capacity.
The opening of the new plant marks a significant milestone in the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050. This was launched in 2017, with the aim to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix to 50% by 2050 while reducing the carbon footprint of power generation by 70%.
However, even when the second plant comes online, it will not be the world’s largest solar plant, well not if Saudi Arabia has anything to do with it. Earlier this year the Saudi Arabian government announced plans for an enormous 2.6GW solar project near Mecca. The Al Faisaliah Solar Project will provide clean electricity to the country’s electricity network in the Western region and Al Faisaliah city at peak times as the region’s population and energy demand continue to increase.
Solar is not the only renewable energy that many Middle Eastern countries are looking at. Contrary to common perceptions, some GCC countries – particularly Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia – also have excellent wind resources. Technological improvements, including higher turbine towers and longer blades, continue making wind farms economically viable in regions with lower but more reliable wind speeds. Again Saudi Arabia seems to be taking the lead on this. According to reports, the Arab state will add 6.2GW of new wind capacity between 2019 and 2028, nearly 50% of the regions total capacity additions in this period.