SUSTAINABLE MIX

Abu Dhabi 2019 | ENVIRONMENT & GREEN ENERGY | FOCUS: SOLAR AND HYDROELECTRIC INVESTMENTS

At a time when new technological breakthroughs are increasing energy efficiencies in the hydrocarbon spectrum, Abu Dhabi remains committed to increasing the role of renewables.

In line with the 2050 energy strategy announced in 2017, Abu Dhabi is advancing steadily toward its goal of seeing 50% of energy in the country generated from alternative energy sources. As such, significant research and investment efforts have coincided with a comprehensive policy overhaul in the power segment to ensure the Emirate prepares for life without oil. Among the major clean energy infrastructure projects, 2018 has witnessed the announcement of the Sweihan Photovoltaic Project and the world's largest reserve of high-quality desalinated water in Liwa.

Established on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis through a joint venture, stakeholders include the former Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), now absorbed into the Department of Energy (DoE) with a 60% share; Marubeni (20%); and JinkoSolar (20%). The project is financed through a combination of debt and equity. A financing agreement was signed between ADWEA, Sweihan Solar, and a syndicate of eight international and local banks in May 2017. The syndicate will provide USD648 million in debt, while the remaining will be financed through equity and pre-completion revenues by DoE, JinkoSolar, and Marubeni. The DoE also raised a USD18-million standby facility to fund any cost overruns.

The Sweihan Photovoltaic IPP, expected to be fully operational by 2020, highlights once more how solar power has gained substantial momentum in recent years as a feasible alternative energy source, adding to the momentum built by Masdar City. When completed, it will be the largest in the world, with a capacity to supply 1,177MW of power for approximately 195,000 homes. Comprised of 201 power stations, the Sweihan complex will use high-efficiency monocrystalline PV modules supplied by Jinko Solar, the world's largest supplier of solar panels. The modules will be mounted on a fixed-tilt, ground-mounted supporting structure using an innovative module layout design.

What's more, in early January 2018, DoE announced its intention to build the world's largest water desalination plant at the Al Taweelah Power Complex in Abu Dhabi. Not only will the Taweelah facility have the largest processing capacity of any to date with a capacity of 900,000 cbm of fresh water per day, but it will also utilize reverse osmosis rather than the more energy-intensive process of multi-phase distillation. Furthermore, it will become the first desalination complex to avoid using an integrated natural gas-fired cogeneration power plant. The announcement followed the completion of the world's largest reserve of high-quality desalinated water, with a storage capacity of 5.6 billion gallons.

After more than 15 years of continuous work, the completion of the Liwa Strategic Water and Recovery Project today can deliver a fallback pumping capacity of 100 million gallons of water per day to the Emirate, if required. Indeed, the USD456-million project can supply around 1 million residents with sufficient drinking water for a period of 90 days. The desalinated water is piped through a 160-km pipeline system from the coast to create a secure, underground reserve system, which has at its core an infiltration and recovery system sitting on a natural freshwater underground aquifer. The system, secured in a network of 315 recovery wells, will contribute to meet the Emirate's growing water consumption, which has risen at an annual rate of 9.5%, doubling water demand within a mere decade.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and DoE are responsible for overseeing the research, planning, construction, implementation and management of both the Sweihan Solar project and the desalination plant in the Al Taweelah Complex. Indeed, such high-level public involvement, which reflects the strategic aims of the project, consists of safeguarding the reserve in the case of a water shortage emergency. With the cost of solar technology going down and major strides towards the effective implementation of new osmosis technology, Abu Dhabi remains fully committed to capital expenditure to secure long-term strategic objectives of sustainability outlined in its 2050 strategy.