CSP solar tower at Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE
December 6, 2023
5 min read

Noor Energy 1, Dubai: Welcome to the CSP resurgence

By Ward Pincus

Dubai’s new CSP plant is designed to collect heat from the sun and store it in molten salt or convert it directly into electricity via a steam generator set – an ideal solution for providing round-the-clock renewable electricity in unpredictable conditions. Noor Energy 1, the 950 MW Hybrid Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and PV plant, is the 4th phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Plant and the largest single -site CSP and single hybrid solar power project in the world.

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Out here just south of Dubai, it’s hard to miss the Noor Energy 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Plant. Like an impossibly bright lighthouse in the desert, the top of the plant’s 263.126-meter central tower glows white-hot at more than 500 °C – a beacon for the renewed momentum of CSP technology in the fight against climate change.

CSP, which had once been written-off in favor of photovoltaics (PV), is now seen as an increasingly important solution for low-cost thermal storage on a utility scale – making it the preferred partner technology for PV and wind to produce green hydrogen.

And Dubai’s immense, 950-megawatt hybrid CSP project is an example par excellence. Six years in the making, the project has already broken a dozen world records – in large part due to having suppliers of key technologies involved from the beginning.

“The CSP plant helps the grid shift away from a dependency on fossil fuels,” says Faisal Albirdisi, Chief Technical Officer for Noor Energy 1. “It provides a stable daily baseload throughout the year, but also throughout the night.” This is a crucial key advantage of CSP technology. Energy can be stored and used as needed, even multiple times a day if necessary. 

Faisal Albirdisi, Chief Technical Officer, Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

The CSP plant helps the grid shift away from a dependency on fossil fuels.

Faisal Albirdisi

Chief Technical Officer, Noor Energy 1

The largest CSP plant in the world

The scale of the Noor Energy 1 Concentrated Solar Power Plant is enormous. It occupies a 44 square kilometers of land – to put that into perspective, that’s 50 percent larger than the island Macau! Just to get from the visitor’s center to the exit gate takes ten minutes, all the while passing a field with hundreds of rows of concave parabolic trough mirrors extending as far as the eye can see. From edge to edge, each mirror measures more than a story tall; each of the 70,000 additional heliostat mirrors surrounding the central tower are nearly the same size.

On a sunny day, the central tower is visible from more than 40 kilometers away. It generates 100 megawatts of electricity during the day and uses thermal storage to keep sending power to the grid for an additional 15 hours overnight or during cloudy weather. This central tower CSP unit, the world’s tallest, is just one of four CSP units that make up the world’s largest single-site CSP plant.

The other three units are 200 megawatt parabolic trough CSP units that together generate 600 megawatts of electricity during the day and for 12 hours at night. These four CSP units, along with a 250 megawatt solar PV component, can deliver nearly one gigawatt of power and make up Phase 4 of the Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park. By 2030, the park is set to generate 5 gigawatts of renewable energy – equivalent to removing over 1.4 million cars off the road.

“By splitting production into four units,” says Siemens Energy’s Lead Installation and Commissioning Manager Abdul Mateen Shuja, “the plant is more resilient and more flexible in delivering the amounts of energy are required, whether 200 or 700 megawatts.”

Inside a CSP unit at Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

At Noor Energy 1 heat captured from the sun is used to create steam delivered through pipes to power four highly-efficient Siemens Energy turbines.

Molten Salt Storage, Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

Unlike wind and solar PV, the CSP plant’s large thermal storage sharply reduces the intermittency of power delivery to the grid.

Parabolic trough mirrors, Noor Energy, Dubai, UAE

Hundreds of rows of parabolic trough and heliostat mirrors as well as PV extend as far as the eye can see in every direction.

One of four steam turbines inside Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

Four highly efficient and flexible steam turbines sit at the heart of the CSP plant, the final step into converting heat from the sun into clean electricity.

The heart of the plant: rotating steam turbines

CSP plants operate by using the mirrors to heat molten salt in the central tower and transfer fluid in the parabolic trough mirrors to hundreds of degrees Celsius. The heat is then used to create steam that powers steam turbine generator sets. Some of the heat is also stored in giant molten salt thermal storage tanks to generate steam and keep electricity flowing when the sun isn’t shining.

Here, at Noor Energy 1, the mirrors, the hundreds of kilometers of piping to carry molten salt and heat transfer fluid, plus the massive network of metal pipes that make up the heat-transfer systems to produce steam, all of this supports the large rotating hearts of the plant – the four highly efficient steam turbine generator sets provided by Siemens Energy: three SST-800/500 turbine sets for the three parabolic trough units and one SST-700/900 turbine set for the central tower.

These turbines, the final crucial step in turning the sun’s rays into clean renewable electricity, provide fast start-up times and high reliability and availability, ideal for CSP plants that often have large demands placed on them with daily start-ups and shutdowns. 

CSP and Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy

This record-breaking plant also is one of the lowest cost, with a levelized cost of energy of 7.3 US cents/kilowatt hour. By combining all three characteristics, the plant supports the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, which aims to meet 25 percent of the emirate’s energy requirements through renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent from clean and renewable sources by 2050.

Noor Energy 1 is distinguished by the large thermal storage that sharply reduces the intermittency of power delivery to the grid. Unlike wind and solar PV, which can only generate electricity when there is wind or sun, for much of the year Noor Energy 1 can dispatch previously stored power as required by the grid.

Once the plant is fully operational, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) will be able to turn to Noor Energy 1 to provide up to 700 megawatts of renewable electricity all night long. So, when millions of Dubai residents head home at the end of the day – turning on air conditioners, washing machines, and lights – just as solar PV production winds down, Noor Energy 1 can still use the stored sunlight to light up the night with clean renewable electricity.

Enrique Valades Nieto, Deputy Project Director, Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

What we’re doing here is a real demonstration of action we can take…this is for future generations.

Enrique Valades Nieto

Deputy Project Director, Noor Energy 1

Welcoming key suppliers early leads to success

The successful delivery of such a massive project not only takes the cooperation of world-class technology providers, it requires partnership from the very beginning. Long before the first shovel of sand was moved – and even before the power purchase agreement was signed – Siemens Energy was talking with Noor Energy 1. “We supported them with the plant design, including the detailed thermodynamic planning and the complete concept design for the steam-water cycle,” says Gert Beyerlein, Project Manager at Siemens Energy. “We also brought in expertise on grid output connections and how our turbines could best fulfil grid requirements – these are all significant aspects that need to be considered early on in the design.”

Faisal Albirdisi agrees, saying that welcoming Siemens Energy into the process was essential for risk mitigation: “Having key suppliers involved at the beginning stages of planning and development let us complete the project safely, with quality and performance in mind – and optimize operational performance.”

Enrique Valades Nieto, the plant’s Deputy Project Director, adds that partnering with Siemens Energy means working with a technology provider that brings decades of experience with them. He can still recall the first CSP project he ever worked on back in 2008, which featured a Siemens Energy steam turbine generator set. “With all their knowledge, Siemens Energy simply gives us more trust in the reliability of CSP technology.”

Announced in 2017, Noor Energy 1 is scheduled for full commercial operations across all units by early 2024. The plant, says Valades Nieto, exemplifies the progress that Dubai and the UAE are making toward their net-zero future. “In the face of global climate change, what we’re doing here is a real demonstration of action we can take. I’m coming to the plant every morning, not for me, but to leave a better future for my daughters. It isn’t just for us. No, in my humble opinion, this is for future generations.”

Central CSP Tower from a distance, Noor Energy 1, Dubai, UAE

Visible from 40 kilometers away, the central CSP tower, is one of four CSP units delivering up to 950 megawatts of renewable electricity.

About the author: A former correspondent for The Associated Press, Ward Pincus is a freelance energy, business and technology writer who has lived and worked in Dubai, UAE, for more than 20 years.

Combined picture and video credits: Oliver Jackson