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The parabolic trough collectors track the sun from morning to night and concentrate sunlight onto embedded tubes carrying a heat transfer fluid. This fluid, which consists of synthetic oil mostly, hits the system at roughly 300 degrees celsius. Once heated by the sun, the temperature rises to approximately 400 degrees before it is passed through a natural gas-powered booster that literally boosts the temperature by an additional 140 degrees, thereby substantially increasing efficiency. This heat is eventually used to boil water that generates steam that powers a conventional steam turbine.

Located 120 km southwest of Abu Dhabi, Shams 1 was so situated in order to make use of existing energy infrastructure. Additionally it is close to natural gas production facilities, which made it easy to incorporate this fuel into the overall system. While the plant is not designed to run on natural gas, the plant will always run at 100MW capacity even if substantial cloud cover reduces the parabolic collectors’ productivity.

The system is currently generating energy, but is not yet feeding energy into the national grid. We talked to Masdar’s Clean Energy Director Bader Saeed Al Lamki, who said at the time that the plant was launched, this technology seemed like the most reasonable option. Since then, the price of photovoltaic technology has decreased, he added, though he also notes that the best policy is to ensure an energy mix since there are trade offs to each technology. To illustrate this, he pointed out that Spain’s Gemasolar Power Plant, of which Masdar is a partner, runs around the clock due to storage facilities that PV technology can’t supply. A $6000 million investment, Shams 1 will contribute to Abu Dhabi’s overall goal to supply 7% of its energy with renewables by 2020.

+ Shams Power Company

All images by Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat