The United Arab Emirates have a reputation for innovative investments, so it was only a matter of time—and after a recovery in oil prices—before the Gulf state started making headlines in the renewable energy sector. In this case, the headlines are about another record the Emiratis achieved: the largest virtual battery.
A Quartz report by Akshat Rathi details the virtual battery, so called because it is actually made up of ten energy storage facilities, as the latest indication of the UAE’s renewable ambitions for the future. The battery system, which can be operated from a single point of control, has a capacity of 108 MW/648 MWh, which is enough to power Abu Dhabi for six hours in case of a grid outage. This makes it the largest battery system in the world to date.
But it’s not just about the record. A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency revealed that record investments in solar power in the UAE—and in Saudi Arabia—has made solar power cost competitive with fossil-fueled power plants. The Emirates are already home to almost 79 percent of the installed solar power capacity of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Plans are in place in the UAE to draw 27 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2021. By 2050, the Emirates see 40 percent of their installed power generation capacity in the form of renewable sources.
Solar is dominant among these sources for obvious geographical and climatic reasons. But as more renewables come on stream, the need for energy storage grows, too. For the same reason, Abu Dhabi decided to have their record-breaking battery system use sodium-sulfur technology manufactured by Japanese NGK. Related: Did Russia Make A Secret Nuclear Energy Deal With North Korea?
This might come as a surprise in a world dominated by lithium-ion batteries, but there is a logical explanation and it involves the fact that lithium-ion batteries have a relatively narrow range of operation without sustaining damages. They can’t work well in too hot or too cold weather, in other words. The sodium-sulfur batteries, however, can withstand up to 300 degrees Celsius and don’t need air-conditioning like lithium-ion batteries thanks to their insulation.
Renewables currently constitute just 2 percent of the United Arab Emirates power generation capacity. At 589 MW, this is not a lot compared to renewable giants such as China. But that giant recently made a U-turn on renewable projects as problems emerged, such as serious energy waste because of insufficiently large transmission networks and a too hefty subsidy bill for the government. The UAE is being smarter about renewables: it is expanding its renewable generation slowly but surely and building storage capacity it will no doubt need early on. The Emirates even managed to launch some low-cost solar projects that will not be subsidized.
There are projects totaling 7GW in new installed capacity in the Gulf Cooperation Council planned for the future. Most of these are in the United Arab Emirates and should come on stream in the next few years, according to the IRENA report. The country has budgeted US$160 billion to be invested in renewable energy by 2030. By 2050, the UAE expects to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources. The world’s largest virtual battery is probably just the start.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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