Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | ENERGY | FOCUS: SOLAR ENERGY

When it comes to clean energy solutions, Ras Al Khaimah is just as active as its neighboring Emirates. Through investment in research centers and the promotion of private investment opportunities, Ras Al Khaimah's government is focusing its efforts on engaging industry and academia to push solar into a stronger position in the energy economy.

The UAE has already set ambitious solar energy goals that form part of the country's clean energy strategy, and at the same time its national strategy aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 15% by 2021. Dubai has been leading the race on this front; however, future projects are set to place Ras Al Khaimah as a key player in achieving the UAE's green goals.

In 2007, RAK's government and CSEM, a Swiss research center, embarked on a joint venture to create an R&D center to support industrial activities. In 2014, the government decided to merge the center with the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) and the RAK Research and Innovation Center (RAKRIC) was created. The center's mandate is to find and develop solutions to sustainability problems for the UAE and GCC. One of the center's current focuses is Solar Island, the world's first high-precision solar tracking platform, which can track the sun for optimum energy production, thus ensuring optimal use of primary solar radiation. This is important because it provides a unique way to supply large quantities of energy at a competitive cost, with limited civil engineering, requiring just steel, plastic, and mirrors, which rotate on a simple rotation base, thus avoiding the cost of motorizing each panel.

RAKRIC is also working on solar cooling, testing different combinations of cooling systems that could reduce the energy consumed. Professor Mousa Mohsen, Director of RAKRIC, explained, “Cooling in the UAE consumes 70% of the electrical power in the country. If we can introduce solar energy to be used in such activities, that will help the Emirate and the whole country.” It is a cost carried by both public and private sectors alike and both have been looking for ways in which to use energy more efficiently. RAKRIK's solar cooling program is looking into absorption chilling, with two chillers currently installed and their results being analyzed. Thus far the findings have been presented at conferences in Germany, France, and London.

Beyond the labs and onto the waterside, Utico, alongside Spanish Grupo Cobra, announced in October 2015 the first joint venture in the Middle East to build a USD195.8 million solar-powered seawater desalination plant in Ras Al Khaimah. It will be another record breaker, becoming the world's greenest desalination plant with the least CO2 emissions, using energy from the sun to force seawater through a polymer membrane, filtering out the salt. Richard Menezes, Vice Chairman & Managing Director of Utico, told TBY which demand is behind this investment: “Water utility demand always grows with the growing size of the economy and GDP as well as through un-served areas that were not yet on the grid. We have laid nearly 400km of network to access these areas, which further adds to GDP and demand.” Once completed, the plant will produce 22 million gallons of water per day and is expected to be operational by 2017.Utico's project is set to pave the way for many more green-investments in Ras Al Khaimah. According to a report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), if the right policy and regulatory frameworks are put in place, the technology to harness solar and wind energy, could decrease in price by at least 26% and 59% between 2015 and 2025. The same report said that the global weighted average cost of electricity could fall by 59% from PV by 2025. In total, it looks like this emirate, a non-oil dependent one, is on the way to capitalize on solar resources and securing low cost energy for its citizens.