Countries in the Middle East are increasingly focusing on a move towards low-carbon economies. With sustainability being a vital part of state visions, Gulf nations are actively working to build 80 GW capacity through renewable sources by 2030. Ambitious as it may seem, the target is not just achievable but way below the renewable’s potential of the region. Owing to the Gulf’s geographic features and arid climate, the scope of solar surpasses any other form of renewables in the region.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) projections reported in Renewable Energy Market Analysis: GCC 2019, solar sector alone can produce 89% of new jobs within the region’s renewables industry by 2030. The projection follows IRENA’s estimate that 60% of the Gulf region’s surface area makes it an ideal host for solar PV deployment. Capitalizing on even one percent of this area can result in the production of 470 GW of energy. What increases the overall appeal of solar in the Middle East is that PV modules are now 75% cheaper than their price in 2009. With the cost of solar technologies continuing a downward trajectory, prospects of PV systems are more promising than ever before.
That said, like any innovation, these promises of solar are not short of pitfalls. In the absence of appropriate deployment, a PV system may not provide the ideal solution to your energy needs. In fact, what makes a PV system successful depends on several factors including design, sizing, installation methods, panel types, cost, life cycle and usage. Here we look into all these elements to help you make the right decision for your project.
The first question to be addressed before going into system details is about the fundamental design of your PV solar system. Is it going to be off-grid or on-grid? An on-grid system is connected to the main grid where power produced in excess is sent to the grid which works as a storage unit of energy for future use. An off-grid system, on the other hand, uses its own batteries to store the extra energy generated during the day. Going on-grid may be the most cost-effective and space-efficient choice, but its execution depends on the availability of the main grid’s capacity to incorporate the electrical power generated by PV solar panels. In the absence of an existing grid, you can build an off-grid system unless the scale of your project makes it more practical to invest on arranging a grid connection.
The size of your PV solar system depends on the amount of power you want to generate to meet your energy needs. Is your project a house or an office facility, a mall or a factory? All these questions will help you provide answers to your capacity needs. The easiest approach here is to use electricity bills of existing or similar facilities as a point of reference. Knowing the average amount of energy consumed over the years is a good starting point to set your energy demand required from the PV system. From here onwards, you can apply this essential knowledge to determine the number and size of solar panels, inverters, controllers and batteries among other components. This, however, is subject to the amount of space you can utilize to incorporate solar features. As a rule of thumb, the percentage of a facility’s space used up by solar PV system should not exceed 30% to maintain the architectural or curb appeal of your project.
Types of PV panels:
Once you have decided the fundamental design, it is time to chalk out component specifications. With solar panels being the major element of the PV system, you can select from a range of panel types. Broadly categorized into three types, PV panels can be monocrystalline, polycrystalline/mulitcrystalline and thin film. With each type having its own advantages and disadvantages, you need to identify the right type for your project based on a range of factors, such as project budget, amount of space available and the nature of the facility in question. Apart from the three essential types, engineers and owners now have a choice to pick from monofacial and bifacial modules with the latter providing two sides to capture the sunlight. Another innovation in the field has led to the development of transparent panels. As opposed to conventional opaque modules, transparent panels increase the amount of natural sunlight into the indoor environment and maintain the project’s architectural appeal while also enhancing its solar potential. Another decision linked to the project’s aesthetic appeal is the choice between edged and non-edged panels.
Techno economics of a PV system encompasses everything from the design and installation to maintenance and payback time of the system. Stated differently, techno economics is about carrying out the feasibility study of the entire project’s PV system. It analyzes the production capacity of a PV plant alongside the number of hours with strong sunlight. The estimated savings are then calculated to offset the amount of capital cost incurred on installing the PV system. In general, it takes five to eight years for a project to reach its breakeven point. PV panels, on the other hand, usually come with 20-year guarantee. For the first year, the depreciation rate is 0.5%. After 10 years, however, their performance falls to 80%. That said, by this time you would have already received the return on investment. Panels damaged over time can be easily replaced without disturbing the whole PV system.
Although low-maintenance, PV systems are not devoid of post-installation support. While the hot, sunny climate in Gulf countries is ideal for PV deployment, the region is not short of challenges. Frequent dust storms make a common limitation to the efficient operations of PV systems. To receive optimum results, surfaces of PV panels must stay clean. Another factor that reduces panels’ performance is temperature. For every five degrees increase in panel temperature, its performance goes down by 0.5%. Considering these two externalities together has led industry experts to come up with a mutual solution. Spraying water over PV panels not only cleans their surface but also cools down their temperature for enhanced performance.
Technically daunting as it may sound, installation of a PV solar system is far from complicated. A basic training in its design, sizing and installation can easily be applied on projects of varying scopes as the fundamental principles of a PV system remain the same irrespective of the project size. Construction professionals and engineers who do not have a formal education in PV systems can always hone their skills and specialize in PV systems by receiving professional education in the field. Global Sustainability Academy capitalizes on the expertise of GORD Institute in introducing their intensive workshop which focuses on sizing, design, installation and execution of feasibility study of PV systems in their Techno Economics of PV Systems Workshop held periodically over the year.