23 June 2009

Looking glass

Masdar city opened its first 10 MW solar photovolatic plant and conncected it to the grid on June 1st, apparently on budget and on schedule. It's currently the largest PV plant in the Middle East right now.

We're all still living/working in temporary spaces, though. I think they've been pretty clever about finding space...which is incredibly scarce and expensive in Abu Dhabi city. Currently, the Masdar Institute is housed at the Petroleum Institute (PI)...in an old warehouse Masdar recently retrofitted. You might never know just by looking, though. Here's what it looks like inside:

I witnessed how they turned this room from a dark dusty corner of warehouse to a slick office space in about one week. Here's what the same room looks like from the top, you can still see some of the old warehouseness:

The white pizza boxes are actually the tops of the fluorescent lights in the first picture. There's other signs of the old warehouse, like this side door:

At the top, you can see how it was once one of those rolling sliding warehouse doors, and then they stuck another panel underneath with a double door. And here, where the ceiling isn't quite completed yet, you can look up and see the warehouse:

Actually, we're only in half of the warehouse. Apparently, the other half was empty until ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, they run the PI) saw what Masdar had done with the space and was so inspired they decided to retrofit the other half for ADNOC offices. There's also a rumor that once we leave this space, they're just going to tear down all our retro-fitting, which is quite a pity. Here's what the building looks like from the front:

Green things! Which are wonderful...even though the PI likes to water them in the middle of the day with great giant puddles that leak out onto the street, which is awesome because the UAE has one of the highest water consumption rates per capita in the world, which is even more awesome because all the water here is more energy intense because it needs to be desalinated.

Meanwhile, back at the city construction site, they have mods! Two-story office mods. (For non-Oliners, mods were temporary housing units for students when Olin was in the middle of construction.) Here's the Masdar version, complete with circus tent:

Isn't the tent neat? It shades the building so it doesn't need as much cooling. Here's the solar PV test site, where they have all sorts and brands of PV to test it in real world conditions with incredible heat and dust.

You would think that the desert would be an ideal place to have a solar plant (I did) but it turns out that dust is a huge problem. There's trade-offs between energy production and how often the panels should be washed. This site is how they chose which brand/type of solar to use in their 10 MW PV plant. And here's a solar cooling experiment:

See how seriously that dust has caked onto the panels?! The dust settles on the panels and then becomes cemented on when the air passes through the dew point at dawn and dusk. I think this pilot has largely run its course, so it's no longer being maintained. You can also see in the background how deserty it is around these parts.

Why is it that "deserted" sounds like "desserted" and not "desert-ed"?

Here's what our school looks like now:

Apparently, we'll be moving in, oh, 2 months. Right.


Kathryn said...

I wonder -- obviously washing the solar panels with water is tradeoffy, but would it be less so to do it with oil? It might also help protect against the cementing effect of dew. And have they tried crazy static electricity solutions to repel the dust? Does that even make sense?

This stuff is fascinating. Thanks for writing about it :)

Photon said...

The Mars rovers get their solar panels cleaned off via the occasional dust devil!

Ken said...

How do desert plants avoid concretion of dust which would prevent photosynthesis? After all, plant leaves are basically solar panels. Perhaps mankind can take a lesson from nature on this one.