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UAE to Unveil Giant Solar Power Plant
December 10, 2012

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In just a few weeks, the United Arab Emirates will join the ranks of solar power producers.

A very large project built in the middle of a remote patch of desert, the Shams 1 plant will generate power for 20,000 homes.

Solar has not been a big sell in the Middle East, where most countries enjoy rich revenues from oil and other fossil fuels. As has been the case in other countries, the construction of solar power plants has proved more expensive than production units built to harness oil. However, the costs are no longer prohibitive, and the UAE has gotten onboard with the idea of harnessing one of the area's major resources and turning it into usable energy.

Abu Dhabi, home to the Shams 1 plant, has set a target by 2020 of 7 percent of its total energy production being renewables. Other countries in the region have announced more ambitious. Egypt and Qatar have announced targets of 20 percent by 2020 (Egypt) and 2024. Significantly, Saudi Arabia has set a 2020 target of 10 percent. The country has plans to build its own large plant in the next 20 years.

A prime motivation for all of these countries is a recent estimate that some of them will face energy demands so high in the next decade or two that they risk becoming energy importers, despite their massive oil reserves.

Some have urged caution, though, warning that new production systems inherently carry greater risk. Qatar, which played host to the latest worldwide talks on climate change, unveiled a solar testing facility. The country has promised to be a carbon neutral country by the time it plays host to the 2022 Soccer World Cup.

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