Solar plane’s arrival highlights UAE’s clean-energy push

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates might not seem like an obvious spot to begin and end a globe-spanning flight promoting renewable energy.

It is OPEC’s fourth biggest oil producer, after all, where gas guzzlers rule the road and the air conditioning is always on — not just at its indoor ski slope. Its oil output and fossil fuel-burning airlines are growing, and its per-capita carbon emissions rank among the world’s highest.

Yet this federation of sheikhdoms on the Persian Gulf has emerged as an unlikely champion of clean energy. One way is by backing the Solar Impulse 2 solar plane, which ended its groundbreaking round-the-world flight on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi and counts Emirati renewable-energy company Masdar among its sponsors.

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Dubai, the country’s cosmopolitan commercial hub, last month picked an Emirati-Spanish consortium to develop the third phase of what is slated to become the world’s biggest solar park. The winning bid for the 800-megawatt phase of the project came in at an industrywide record low cost of 2.99 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.

The first phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, named after the emirate’s ruler, went online with 13 megawatts of capacity in 2013. Another 200 megawatts will be added next year. Plans call for the $14 billion park to eventually produce 5,000 megawatts by 2030, enough to power tens of thousands of homes.