ABU DHABI -- Low-cost and high-volume manufacturing were apparently among the selling points that won two companies contracts to build Masdar City's first, 10-megawatt solar farm.
Managers of Abu Dhabi's ambitious project to build a zero-emission technology utopia in the desert named China's Suntech Power Holdings Sunday as the second company that is providing 5 megawatts worth of solar panels for the power plant. First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz., made it known three days earlier that it won the other 5-megawatt contract.
Masdar City is the brainchild of Masdar, a government-funded initiative that invests in all sorts of greentech companies. Part of the plan is to build a massive city powered by renewable energy and occupied by greentech companies. When completed in 2016, the 6.5-square-kilometer city would be able to house about 50,000 people.
Abu Dhabi, known for its rich oil reserves, hopes to stake a new claim to fame through Masdar. Like its neighbor Dubai, Abu Dhabi is keen on finding new sources of revenues to brace for the day when oil isn't so plentiful.
Masdar has teamed up with solar companies to build solar and wind power plants in Europe (see Masdar Heats Up Concentrating Solar and Masdar Bets on Massive Offshore Wind Park). It also is building a factory to produce solar panels (see Masdar Breaks Ground on $230M Solar Factory).
"This is going to become the first model of a sustainable city," Khalid Awad, director of property development for Masdar, during a press event.
The 10-megawatt solar farm is being erected in the sand, and it's scheduled to be completed and hooked to the electric grid in March this year, said Khalid Ballaith, a project manager with Masdar. The solar farm is costing about 185 million dirhams ($50 million) to build, said Sander Trestain, a project manager at Environmena, the generator contractor for the $22 billion Masdar City build out.
The solar farm will be used to power Masdar City's construction, which started in 2008. Its first residents will be the 100 students and professors of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. They plan to move in by September this year.
Madsar is planning on building 240 megawatts worth of power plants overall for the city, Awad said.
Awad and other Masdar representatives showed off the project's progress to journalists Sunday as a prelude to the three-day energy by Masdar called "World Future Energy Summit."
The summit is attracting executives from public and startup companies in solar, wind, geothermal, water and other greentech businesses from around the world. Tony Blair will give a speech.
Masdar City planners envision using solar panels to generate 80 percent of the electricity the city needs, and many of the panels will go on rooftops, said Sameer Abu Zaid, who oversees a competition to test and select solar panel providers for the project. The remainder will come from other types of solar technologies, such as solar thermal, as well electricity generated from wastes and other fuel sources.
At one of the stops of the press tour, Zaid walked around rows of solar panels provided by companies from Japan, Germany, the United States, China and even Italy. The companies included Conergy, Yingli Green Energy, Trina Solar and Isofoton.
Masdar is trying out crystalline silicon panels as well as thin-film versions that much less silicon or different materials all together. In all, 33 companies are setting up 40 systems for Masdar. Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif.-based start and whose investors include Masdar, is still setting up its unusual, solar cell-lined tubes.
Masdar is using the contest to see how the panels perform in the desert, where wind and sand can easily dirty them and curb their ability to generate electricity. Zaid declined to say whose system has performed the best or provide costs for buying and running those systems.
Awad said the impact of the global economic downturn on the Masdar City project isn't known yet. He said given that customers are hard to come by for solar companies these days, Masdar project should become even more attractive. He noted that Masdar already has benefited from falling prices in solar panels and construction materials such as steel in recent months.