For decades Qatar has looked to the ground for its energy supply. Now it is looking to the sky. With hydrocarbons a finite resource and sustainability a cornerstone of Qatar National Vision 2030, alternative, cleaner means of energy production must be developed. Through its Solar Smart-Grid Project, Qatar Foundation (QF) is showing the way.
The recently completed project has installed new solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at Education City, capable of producing 1.68MW of power, and created QF’s Energy Monitoring Center (EMC). A pioneering project for the Gulf region, it will be the nerve center for managing the Smart-Grid and monitoring solar power while becoming a resource for researchers and students.
QF now produces up to 85 percent of Qatar’s total solar energy output, and the Solar Smart-Grid Project and EMC are intended to accelerate the adoption of solar power as a key energy source for the country.
“Qatar is part of new thinking in making the entire region seek alternative, environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources, and, therefore, it has drawn up an ambitious plan to install 1.8GW of solar capacity by 2020,” said Ibrahim Al Haidos, MEP Engineer, Capital Projects Directorate, QF, and Project Manager for the Solar Smart-Grid Project.
“It is QF’s vision to lead human, social, and economic development through education and research, by making Qatar a nation that can be a vanguard for productive change in the region and a role model for the broader international community. At QF, we develop projects that actively promote environmental and sustainability awareness and enhance the quality of life in communities in Qatar.”
The EMC has been developed by GreenGulf, in partnership with QF Capital Projects and ASTAD Project Management. Al Haidos said its role is to ensure operational and maintenance efficiency, and to monitor the quality of solar power produced at Education City in real time.
It will enhance visitors ‘awareness of QF’s renewable energy initiatives, while enabling them to view data. QF’s solar project has also brought parking lot shades covered in solar panels to Education City – the first in Qatar – and achieved the first agreement to be signed by Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (KAHRAMAA) that accepts a private commercial energy project’s connection to Qatar’s central power grid.
“I see this as a great opportunity for a learning experience for Kahramaa, to see how the system reacts to our energy consumption and, most importantly, the weather conditions,” said Mr Al Haidos.
Three reasons lie behind Qatar’s need to harness solar power, according to Husain A lAbdullah, Chief Development Officer, GreenGulf: firstly, Qatar’s commitment to taking action on climate change; secondly, solar energy’s increasing viability; thirdly, the potential loss of benefits from alternative energy sources through focusing on domestic gas production, as opposed to exportation. Developing Qatar’s solar industry will also contribute to building an indigenous, knowledge-based economy.
“Once you stack together all the reasons why solar can, and should, grow to be a meaningful contributor to securing Qatar’s energy future, the question becomes: at what pace?” Al Abdullah said.
“That’s where a lot of the renewable energy projects in the country become a very important part of the discussion. When you feed into a utility grid, you want the power to be reliable, measurable and predictable, and you’d like to be able to monitor this in real time. The EMC helps you do just that.”
Al Abdullah said QF’s position “at the nexus of research and academia” makes it vital to Qatar’s solar future. “Qatar Foundation has painstakingly informed and developed the case for solar right from the outset,” he said. “It has, of its own initiative, stepped up to fill a crucial space. We hope that inspires other organizations to get involved.”
In addition to reliability, Al Abdullah said energy sources must be scalable and cost efficient, challenges that QF is addressing. “Whether it’s leveraging Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute’s research into the solar value chain, GreenGulf’s solar test facility to answer important questions around the economics of solar, or Qatar Solar Technologies’ manufacturing capabilities to make energy production more cost-effective, we’re starting to see a critical mass emerging around the industry,” he said.
Dr Khalid Klefeekh Al Hajri, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec), said Qatar’s “abundant sunshine” means solar energy complements traditional energy sources, with the optimum solar generation time – the middle of the day – aligning with a peak in electricity demand. “This represents a real opportunity for Qatar to utilize this resource to diversify our energy sources, protect our environment, reduce greenhouse gases and become a leader in solar applications and technologies that are ideally suited to our climate,” he said.
“In this region, if you place a solar panel in the sun, in around 12 months it will produce the same amount of energy it took to manufacture that panel, and will then keep producing solar energy for another 25-30 years. This sustainable energy source can provide us with our increasing power requirements, while protecting the natural resources and environment for Qatar’s future generations.
”Other benefits will emerge.” said Dr Al Hajri. “There is enormous research potential to develop new solar technologies and applications that are ideally suited to the region’s needs, and unlimited scope for solar entrepreneurs to seize these opportunities to create new products.
“The solar industry is a global industry. Being surrounded by the expanding Asian, Middle Eastern, and African markets means Qatar, and QSTec, are well-placed to service these markets and provide export revenue to Qatar.”
Dr Al Hajri said QF’s Solar Smart-Grid Project and the EMC will have “a widespread positive impact” on the use of solar power and how it feeds back into Qatar’s power grid.
“This exciting initiative will enable QF to demonstrate to all stakeholders how solar energy smart-grid-enabled systems operate,” he said. “It will greatly add to the research, knowledge base, and adoption of solar technologies to diversify a country’s energy mix.
“QF has firmly established itself as a leader in the research, development, and adoption of new technologies, and the Solar Smart-Grid Project and EMC will be a showcase for the region’s solar energy usage and future growth.”