This Nation Is Building the World's Cheapest Solar Farm

Photo credit: KARIM SAHIB - Getty Images
Photo credit: KARIM SAHIB - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • Abu Dhabi will have the cheapest solar farm ever built, set to open in 2022.

  • Unlike costly molten salt or other experimental tech, photovoltaic (PV) costs continue to fall.

  • The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has abundant sunshine and cheap areas of land, making it ideal for solar development.

A collaboration in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) will help to install the world's cheapest solar farm in 2022. The public electric utility in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E., chose a bid that will bring the cost of solar power down to 1.35 cents per kilowatt hour. The U.A.E. is home to many of the world’s biggest solar farms because of its extremely abundant sunshine and wide, flat, empty stretches of land.

The U.A.E.’s public image is dominated by Dubai, a cutting-edge city full of indoor skiing, the tallest skyscrapers, and record-breaking theme parks. It’s where Richard Hammond drove a six-wheeled, $500,000 Mercedes on Top Gear. You’d need a lot of even the most cost-efficient solar farms to counteract indoor ski slopes in the desert.

But Abu Dhabi is different. “Abu Dhabi is a much calmer, more traditional city and more family and community led than Dubai,” one expat told Aetna. By bringing in this cheap solar farm, Abu Dhabi Power Corporation (ADPower) says it will add power for 160,000 homes in Abu Dhabi and throughout the U.A.E. That’s two gigawatts of power on top of the 1.2 gigawatts another solar farm already produces in the Abu Dhabi area.

“This will reduce the Emirate’s CO₂ emissions by more than 3.6 million metric tons per year—equal to removing around 720,000 cars from the road—improving efficiency and driving sustainability, while catering for the growth in demand across the [U.A.E.],” ADPower said in its statement. Indeed, overall population growth in U.A.E. flattened in the aftermath of the 2008 recession and is now on the rise again.

On top of that, “as the economy grows, the demand for energy is expected to increase by 9 [percent] annually,” the U.A.E.’s English-language government site explains. Getting ahead of that energy demand means the government can save utility costs for the very people who are either getting onto the grid for the first time or increasing their demand along with their quality of life.

Why is this solar farm so cheap? In 2018, Massachusetts Institute of Technology released an analysis detailing the “hundredfold” freefall of solar photovoltaic (PV) prices over the four preceding decades. The key difference: Advanced solar PV cells turned much more of the sun’s light into usable power, which means more energy from each panel and flexibility to put smaller panel installations in more places.

That, combined with government investment and underwriting of solar costs for homeowners and businesses, helped solar researchers get funding to continue shrinking and enriching solar technology. The MIT analysis found that 60 percent of the decline in cost was attributable to “policies that stimulated market growth,” while another 30 percent was from “[g]overnment-funded research and development in various nations.”

Indeed, the CEO of ADPower said this in its statement: “Abu Dhabi has illustrated a remarkable step-change in the way the Emirate generates power through an enhanced focus on sustainability and renewable technologies.” One of the sunniest nations on Earth is choosing to lead the way toward a solar-powered future.

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