The Scales of Solar Power

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Abu Dhabi goes solar with Shams 1

Urban schemes for going green involve a special kind of genius. After all, the primary stuff of cities is concrete, steel, and glass. Solar panels no longer excite the way they used to. The business end of sustainability can be just as brutal as any other form of profit-making. Solar competition is cutthroat, be it of the fair (Germans) or not altogether fair (Chinese) sort.

Sometimes, however, you have to pause in wonderment at the breadth of vision and sheer creativeness powering green design in different global contexts. Who can’t marvel at the scale of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant (CSP) in Abu Dhabi, Shams 1? The new plant is described as a “development of 258,048 parabolic trough mirrors that produce enough energy to power 20,000 homes.” The scale is matched by speed of construction, the project taking only two years to get off the ground.

The UAE isn’t motivated by sentimentalism; this is pure strategy. The more solar power, the more oil available for export to energy craving economies like China’s. So environmentalists planning on major Middle Eastern oil producers foregoing fossil fuels are betting on the wrong horse.

Yet the good news still shines on from above. The plant is actually a UAE-European collaboration, as many of Masdar‘s – or the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company as it’s otherwise known – seem to be. These clean-energy team-ups are mutually beneficial. They give foreign innovators the proving grounds to implement their grandiose ideas under benign patronage. The Emir looks the part of the enlightened statesman, the desert kingdom gets to beta-test the newest green technology, and some of its best applications will no doubt then be reimported back as consumer products or recycled into the next big cash-rich venture.