The Power of the Sun

Fadi Nassif, executive commercial leader of GE’s Power Conversion business in the MENA and Turkey, discusses how solar energy is shaping up to power the GCC’s ambitions

What solar energy techniques and technologies are being looked at and deployed in the GCC?

One of the defining technologies that we deploy in the region is the LV5 1,500-volt inverter. Compared to the last generation of 1,000-volt peers, they enable savings of up to 3% capex and up to 15% opex. They are currently being deployed in the landmark Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (Phase III). Once the combined 1GW project is completed, it will be ready to power 250,000 homes in Dubai.

At GE, we also provide full turnkey solar contracts, offering innovative approaches and capabilities in one basket. Our full engineering, procurement and construction approach includes financing, plant equipment and control, grid integration and digital solutions, which also extend to the photovoltaic modules themselves. This integrated system package is designed to offer peace of mind for a comprehensive plant-wide development strategy. We recently signed our first turnkey solar contract with Fas Energy to build the 50MW solar plant for Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC), including both financing and equipment.

Is the technology feasible and effective in this region?

Solar power has tremendous potential for the region. 3,000 to 3,500 hours of sunshine yearly in the region offer an abundant energy supply, and we now have the technology to harness its true potential.

In fact, GE’s LV5 inverter solutions have been deployed in Phase 2 of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. This 200MW park is currently producing electricity at the low cost of $0.0584/kWh. Powered by GE’s LV5 1,500-volt inverters, Phase III of the solar park was signed at what was then a record price of $0.0299/kWh, making solar more competitive than coal in Dubai.

Solar projects in the region are now both feasible and effective, which we are continuing to demonstrate in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other markets. This is helping to drive sustainable energy growth, support the local economy and protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the challenges of this technology, and how can they be overcome?

While the UAE has made definite advances in promoting solar power, there are still a number of challenges that need to be addressed. The low price of solar power at $0.0299/kWh means that profit margins are considerably slimmer for suppliers. Operators will need to find ways to cut costs, and the savings offered by GE’s LV5 make it an inverter of choice for cost-efficient solar plants, as it responds to such challenges. The harsh desert environment could present challenges to equipment too. Our LV5 series solar inverters have been designed to meet the specific requirements of the local environmental conditions of the Middle East.

Is the infrastructure (off-grid, self-contained units, etc) in place to support the use of solar energy in this manner?

The region is putting in place the right infrastructure to support the use of solar energy. DEWA’s Shams Dubai initiative is a great example of this. The programme encourages customers to install rooftop photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity for their household consumption, while also exporting excess power back into the grid.

What support is being provided by authorities (DEWA for example)? Is it enough?

Last year, Dubai announced its Clean Energy Strategy 2050, which includes the target of generating 75% of total power from clean energy sources by 2050. Solar energy will generate 25% of the total energy mix by 2030.

There are concerted efforts to drive this strategy forward, especially by authorities such as DEWA, which has not only spearheaded the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park but is also promoting solar power generation and consumption at the micro level through its Shams Dubai initiative. Masdar’s Abu Dhabi Rooftop Solar Programme is another key initiative that promotes solar energy. These initiatives are significant starts and with strong support from the public, they will enable the country to achieve its clean energy vision.

In January, we participated in the World Future Energy Summit. This key annual event in Abu Dhabi contributes to the government’s clean and renewable energy visions by operating as a global marketplace that advances solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Support like this is crucial to developing the local and regional renewables sector.

Discuss the future of the technology and how it can be developed further.

Solar power offers an unprecedented opportunity to build a cleaner future, and we are working across the spectrum to develop more efficient, reliable and cost-effective means to further implement these technologies. As part of these developments, digital solutions such as asset performance management (APM) will play a key role to further boost solar efficiency. For a solar farm, APM gives operators the ability to monitor real-time performance remotely. By creating a digital twin of the solar farm, we ease the detection of early failures of components such as inverters to effectively reduce unplanned downtime, enabling predictive maintenance and ensuring continued operational efficiency.

GE and Invenergy have partnered to build a digital solar farm with GE’s APM solution, targeted to achieve over 99% plant availability, allowing the 20MW farm to benefit from optimised plant performance and profitability.

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