La Presse in Dubai | The great green ambitions of a petromonarchy

In the land of black gold, the sun is the new king. Largest solar park in the world, tallest hydrothermal tower, green hydrogen; the United Arab Emirates are banking on the fiery star to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, but remain voracious energy consumers.

(Dubai, United Arab Emirates) The dunes have followed one another and looked the same for about thirty minutes when a dazzling light appeared on the horizon, like a lighthouse in the desert.

At 262 meters, the tower of the Noor 1 solar power plant is the tallest in the world; 7000 mirrors redirect the sun’s rays onto its summit, where liquefied salt circulates absorbing their heat.

This so-called thermodynamic solar technology (concentrated solar powerin English) allows you to use solar energy even at night.

“That gives us 15 hours of production,” after sunset, explains engineer Mohammad Jame, vice-president responsible for clean energy and diversification at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority ( DEWA, ​​for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority), stressing that this is also a world record.

“The molten salt is heated to 580°C, sent into tanks, then used to heat water to operate steam turbines that produce electricity,” he explains to representatives of five international media outlets. , of which The Presswho visited the premises during COP28.


Engineer Mohammad Jame, Vice President for Clean Energy and Diversification at DEWA

It’s that simple !

Engineer Mohammad Jame, Vice President for Clean Energy and Diversification at DEWA

The Noor 1 thermodynamic tower, from the word “light” in Arabic, has a production capacity of 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity, but this is only one of the many phases of the Mohammed solar park bin Rashid al-Maktoum, about sixty kilometers from the city of Dubai, whose production capacity is currently 3,200 MW.


The Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum solar park is expected to have a production capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030.

It must reach 5,000 MW by 2030, practically as much as the Robert-Bourassa hydroelectric plant, the largest in Quebec, which would make it the largest solar park on a single site on the planet, various DEWA officials detailed. , while well-dressed employees offered Arabic coffee, chai tea, stuffed dates, zaatar croissants and other local specialties to journalists.

But as large as they are, these installations produce only a tiny part of Dubai’s electricity consumption, which amounted to some 137 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2020 – for comparison, the electricity consumption in Quebec was 213 TWh in 2019.


Hydrogen green…pale

A pilot plant for the production of green hydrogen was also built in 2021 at Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Park, the first in the Middle East and Africa, says Hesham Ismaïl, senior researcher at DEWA.

“Hydrogen serves as energy storage; we use it at night to produce electricity,” he explains, indicating that the factory is powered by solar panels with a total capacity of 1.25 MW.


The pilot plant for producing hydrogen from solar energy and desalinated seawater… using natural gas

Part of the gas produced is also transported by tanker trucks to gas stations in the city, where owners of hydrogen cars can refuel.

“We are testing the different possibilities, to determine the best use that can be made of hydrogen,” explains Mr. Ismaïl, specifying that the factory produces 20.5 kg of gas per hour.

But the water used to produce this green hydrogen (it takes 10 liters to produce one kilo of gas) comes from desalination plants running… on natural gas – the electrolysis process to produce hydrogen does not work with salt water.

“The term “green” always refers to the source of electricity used,” defends Hesham Ismaïl, illustrating that pink hydrogen is produced using nuclear energy, regardless of where the water comes from to produce it.

DEWA plans to change its seawater desalination systems, currently by gas-powered distillation, to more “sustainable” solutions such as reverse osmosis powered by renewable energy by 2050 – the public company produces 1.9 billion liters of fresh water per day.

Heading towards carbon neutrality

The objective that the emirate of Dubai has set itself to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable energies by 2050, mainly from solar energy, “makes economic sense”, since the Solar energy costs less than gas, but it can also be explained by questions of energy independence, observes Pierre-Olivier Pineau, holder of the Chair of Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal.


The tower of the Noor 1 solar power plant, 262 m high

Because the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 7e oil producing countries of the world and 15e gas producer – behind Canada, which is 4e for oil and 6e for gas –, are despite everything a net importer of gas.

“This all the more explains their eagerness to reduce their consumption,” underlines Mr. Pineau, who also sees it as a question of image, the Emirates wanting to “strategically position itself as a country turned towards the future, which embraces technologies clean”.


Pierre-Olivier Pineau, holder of the Chair of Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal

But the UAE also has “an immense potential for energy efficiency”, being the fourth largest consumers of energy per capita on the planet, points out Mr. Pineau, emphasizing that Canada is coming 6e in this chapter.


Energy-producing States offer it at a low price and consume a lot of it rather than valorize it, a “completely imbecile” approach, judges Mr. Pineau.

“It is no coincidence that the largest consumers of energy per capita are also oil producers,” says Mr. Pineau. It’s the same situation in Quebec with our hydroelectricity. »

A hydroelectric power station in the desert

Dubai is also banking on hydroelectricity to achieve carbon neutrality. A new “pumped storage hydropower plant” with a capacity of 250 MW is being built near the Hatta reservoir, built in the 1990s to irrigate this mountainous region on the border of the Sultanate of Oman and provide water. electricity locally. This type of plant operates with two reservoirs: after turning the turbines during periods of peak consumption, the water is pumped back into an elevated reservoir, generally overnight, so that it can be used again. Its commissioning is planned for the end of 2024, “inch Allah” (God willing), indicated to The Press a representative of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

Learn more

  • 3.5 million
    Population of Dubai

    Source: Dubai Electricity and Water Authority

    4.7 million
    Number of people working daily in Dubai

    Source: Dubai Electricity and Water Authority


Leave a Comment