Technologies like robotic systems and solar trackers can help bring down the operational expenditure (opex) of solar parks, according to the head of project delivery at Masdar’s clean energy unit.
Fawaz Al Muharrami, who is also the executive director of Shuaa Energy 2, said that a robotic system is being employed to clean the solar panels at the third phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (MBR Solar Park) in Dubai.
This robotic system, supplied by Spanish company PV Hardware, is reportedly designed specifically for Phase 3 of the MBR Solar Park.
“[Phase 3] is one of the first projects in the Middle East to use the dry-cleaning technology, which basically uses a robotic system to clean the panels without using any drop of water,” Al Muharrami. “[This] is environmentally good, [and] it is a cost-effective solution for the project.”
Shuaa Energy 2, the company implementing the 800MW third phase of the MBR Solar Park, was established by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) in partnership with a Masdar-led consortium, and EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles.
“We have […] between 40 and 50 robots that we use to clean the panels, which reduces a lot of cost in the operations phase of the project,” explained Al Muharrami.
Phase 3, which covers 16km2, is being developed in three stages, with the first stage inaugurated on 30 April, 2018. Stages 2 and 3 are expected to be completed in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
“All [stages] will be using the robotic system [to clean] the panels,” he said, adding: “We are using the [solar] tracking technology as well, [which] is used for the first time in the Middle East. [It] basically tracks the path of the sun, [allowing] us to produce more energy and, hence, reduce the overall cost of the project.”
The solar trackers are also being provided by PV Hardware, said Al Muharrami: “The tracker is standard, so anybody can use the same [system], but the robots [are designed] for these specific panels.”
This is because Phase 3 of the MBR Solar Park is using lightweight panels, he explained: “You cannot put heavy robotic systems, because you might crack the [panels]. So you need to be a little more careful.”
The total investment on the 800MW phase is estimated at more than $900m (AED3.3bn), Al Muharrami revealed, noting that the robotic system and solar tracking technology are only one component expected to help cut the project cost.
“You have the financing […] and how competitive it is. [That] is an important component,” he said. In June 2017, it was announced that seven institutions had signed off on a financing agreement for Phase 3. The signatories of the agreement include three from the Middle East, namely the Union National Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), and four international financial institutions. They are Natixis, from France; SiemensFinancial Services, from Germany; Korea Development Bank, from South Korea; and Canadian export credit agency, Export Development Canada.
“You have also a lot of construction-related activities that you need to continuously optimise and reduce the cost, which then brings down the pricing, so it’s a number of factors.”
Elaborating on his point on optimisation measures, he added: “You can for example reduce the cable size. When we did the final design [for Phase3], we optimised the cable size.”