Solar thermal energy brings new opportunities in the UAE

With the ongoing economic growth of the United Arab Emirates, energy demand in the UAE continues to rise. Due to the challenges associated with the combustion of fossil fuels and in order to save resources for more productive uses in the industry, the UAE has already undertaken substantial steps to support energy efficiency and the development of renewable energies. They host some of the most exciting solar projects, such as the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, where more than 1,000MW of solar electric capacity power will be installed.

While renewable power generation is increasing in the UAE, solar heat supply still only plays a marginal role despite its large potential. The increase of industrial production in the Emirates provides particularly great opportunities for use of solar thermal energy. Within industry, approximately 2/3 of the energy is needed for process heating. The petro-chemical, food and pharmaceutical industries in particular mostly need heat at below 400°C, which can be supplied by the sun.

Industrial Solar has developed a collector optimised for solar process heating. Its Fresnel collector is a linear concentrating solar collector. Incoming sunlight is focused by uniaxially tracked mirrors on a central absorber tube which is installed on top of the collectors. Through the absorber tube, a heat transfer fluid (water, thermal oil or steam) is circulated and provides heat of up to 400°C. Due to its design, the collector can be installed on roof tops and easily be integrated in existing hydraulic networks. As the solar collectors run parallel to an existing heat supply, reliability is guaranteed. In various installations in the Gulf, the collector already has proven its suitability for the harsh environmental conditions of the Emirates.

At the same time, the collector can also be used to power thermally-driven chillers. This is an attractive opportunity to cut peak demand.

Last year, Industrial Solar commissioned a 500sqm solar collector with 272kW capacity at MTN, a major telecommunication company in South Africa. The heat is used to drive a doubleeffect absorption chiller which cools one of MTN’s data centres. In South Africa, where blackouts are common, absorption chillers reduce peak demand in summer and thereby contribute to the stability of the electric grid.

Another project is currently under construction. RAM Pharma, a pharmaceutical company in Jordan, has installed an industrial solar Fresnel collector with a total aperture area of 400sqm and a capacity of 230kW. The collector will generate steam for the manufacturing processes and will operate in parallel to an existing diesel-fired steam boiler.

Within the UAE, there are various interesting applications for large solar thermal systems. With the ongoing growth and diversification of the industry, energy consumption continues to rise. Within the petrochemical sector, particularly in refining, there is substantial heat demand. When these processes are powered by the abundant sunshine, scarce resources become available for export.

In respect to solar cooling, there are various interesting opportunities. While skyscrapers, with marginal roof space, are not suitable, larger commercial centres are rather attractive for solar thermal cooling. A nice side effect is that the solar collectors already shade the building and thereby reduce the cold demand. Hospitals and hotels, with substantial demand for both heating (e.g. laundries) and cooling, also provide an attractive opportunity.

Already today, for companies using oil for their heat supply, solar process heating is an attractive opportunity to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

For feedback on his articles and for enquiries, Martin Haagen can be reached at:

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