The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

First Solar technology ‘ratified’ by park

The company’s thin-film modules enjoy clear advantages in the climatic conditions of the Middle East where it is focused on growing its commercial presence

July 2015

The 13 MWAC Phase One of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which has been seamlessly integrated into the Dubai electricity grid, continues to ‘ratify’ the suitability of First Solar’s thin-film module technology to the region’s environmental conditions, a senior First Solar official says.

“The plant performance and power output has exceeded the guarantees we gave the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa). This consistently reliable performance in actual hot, humid weather and high soiling conditions played a significant role in thin film being specified as the technology of choice for the plant,” said Ahmed S Nada, the company’s vice president for the Middle East. 

“As with any new market, the Middle East has strengthened our capabilities through the process of learning. Its unique geological and environmental conditions, evolving regulatory frameworks and the fact that we were building a solar power plant of a scale that was unprecedented in the region, created both challenges and opportunities.”

First Solar said recently it has signed an agreement to supply its photovoltaic modules to power the 200 MWAC second phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.

The company highlighted that its high-performance thin-film modules have a proven energy yield advantage over crystalline silicon modules in hot climates, making them particularly well suited to projects that are planned in desert environments, such as here in the Middle East. Recent gains have placed First Solar’s thin film modules at par or ahead of multicrystalline silicon modules in terms of efficiency. The company recently announced a record of 18.6 per cent aperture efficiency for an advanced full-size module. Nada noted that the company offers the most bankable solar energy solutions in the world. Currently ranked most bankable PV Company by Bloomberg Energy Finance in a 2014 survey, First Solar has the strongest financial stability in the solar industry.

Nada said the Middle East faced a steep learning curve and demonstrated “exceptional agility” in the process.

“For example, I would point to ACWA Power and TSK’s successfully bid for the second phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which was originally tendered as a 100 megawatt project by Dewa. Following the consortium’s winning bid at a levelised tariff of 5.84 USD cents per kilowatt hour, Dewa recognised the opportunity to leverage this milestone price and, in an unprecedented move, doubled the plant’s capacity. This is an excellent instance of a major utility in the region demonstrating uncommon agility to fully leverage the declining costs and increasing efficiencies of solar.

“From a First Solar perspective, we’ve always welcomed the opportunity to share our knowledge and 10 gigawatts of global experience with the region. And in doing so, I believe that we’ve contributed towards the evolution of its solar energy industry.” 

Nada: solar experiencing exciting time

Nada: solar experiencing exciting time

In addition to the 13 MW first phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, First Solar is providing engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), and operations and maintenance (O&M) services for the 52.5 megawatt (MWAC) Shams Ma’an PV power plant, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Additionally, First Solar has been awarded at least one 50 MW allocation in Egypt’s renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff programme, by the country’s New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), with the project’s development pending government approval.

Nada asserted that First Solar is focused on growing its commercial presence in the region. It established its regional commercial hub in Dubai in 2013 and now has a team of over 20 professionals in various disciplines permanently based in the country, but supporting the broader region.

The official emphasised that its commitment to the region went beyond world-class power plants. ”We are focused on working with our partners to develop solar power into a sustainable, viable and affordable energy resource. For instance, in the UAE we have previously partnered with Dewa to establish a comprehensive solar technology training and certification programme, which has its engineers enrolled on a First Solar-led training course developed in association with Arizona State University’s Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialisation (SEEC) course.


About the future of solar power in the GCC region, Nada responded: “By all indications, it’s safe to predict that the share of renewables in the regional power generation portfolio will grow exponentially. Solar energy offers resource reliability and isn’t threatened by market factors, fluctuating currencies or irregular supply. As the global energy transition demonstrates, solar’s superior economics have earned it an unsubsidised space on the global power generation portfolio, where it competes against and complements conventional fuels.

“The global transition from fossil fuel to renewables is centred on the growing realisation that renewables – and solar in particular – are no longer a subsidy-enabled optionality. What is significant is that demand is being motivated by market realities, such as cost-competitiveness with conventional fuels.

“The GCC is mirroring this global trend, with demand being underpinned primarily by economic factors: energy security for the net energy importing countries and minimising the opportunity cost of self-consumption for the net energy exporters.

“The Middle East region is a key market for us and we believe that success will come from our technology and innovation capabilities combined with global expertise and local insight. We are committed to growing our business in the region and, in turn, to enabling the region’s solar ambitions. In fact, we see a number of opportunities across the region and we plan to pursue these aggressively.

“It’s a very exciting time for solar: the current macro-economic situation in the Middle East is very conducive to the adoption of renewable energy resources in general and solar in particular.”



Citing statistics, Nada said in 2000, the total solar PV capacity installed globally was about 1.5 GW; less than 15 years later, First Solar alone has over 10 GW installed worldwide. The emergence of solar as a key part of the energy generation conversation could be attributed in part, to the fact that a series of recent technology innovations – such as First Solar’s significant leaps in efficiency - have made solar more economical and reliable than ever before, the official said.

The share of renewables in the Gulf is expected to grow exponentially, according to Nada

The share of renewables in the Gulf is expected to grow exponentially, according to Nada

When examined from a Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) basis – a holistic view of the total cost of ownership from project development and financing through operations and maintenance over the plant’s operational life – solar is cost competitive with a wide range of conventional generation sources including peaking generation sources and liquid fuels, such as diesel, he explained. 

“Even in the region’s oil-rich countries the net present value (NPV) of investing in solar energy remains positive. In addition to minimising the opportunity cost of consuming precious hydrocarbon resources domestically, solar also provides the opportunity to localise technology and create jobs, both of which are important to the region’s socio-economic ambitions.”



About new technologies from First Solar, Nada drew attention to a world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency, achieving 18.6 per cent aperture efficiency for an advanced full size module.

“For the first time ever, First Solar was able to demonstrate a record module that is more efficient than the best multi-crystalline module recorded, an achievement that reinforces confidence in First Solar’s ability to deliver sustained product improvements consistent with its long-term technology roadmap. The record has been measured and certified by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This 18.6 per cent aperture area efficiency corresponds to a full area conversion efficiency of 18.2 per cent, which easily beats the best recorded multi-crystalline Si PERC module with an approximate full area efficiency of 17.7 per cent (based on 19.1 per cent aperture efficiency and published module area data).”

This achievement is the eighth substantial update to CdTe record efficiency since 2011, continuing a disruptive and sustained trend of rapid performance improvements. In January, First Solar produced a research cell with 21.5 per cent conversion efficiency, certified at the Newport Corporation’s Technology and Applications Centre (TAC) PV Lab and confirmed by NREL.

“First Solar’s leadership in renewable energy is a result of our deep expertise and over a decade-long track record in manufacturing, developing, financing, engineering, constructing or operating the world’s leading sources of sustainable, solar energy,” Nada said.

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