Capacity across the solar value chainMay 24, 2021
Mothana Bahjeat Qteishat, senior managing director of the MEA region for Jinko Power, talks to The Energy Year about the factors that have made the UAE’s solar projects successful and how the company is advancing solar technology. Jinko Power develops solar power plants and is currently building the world's largest solar (and its second GW-scale) project in the UAE.
Why have the UAE’s solar projects been successful?
We are very satisfied with Abu Dhabi’s solar framework. The local programme is among the best we have seen – if not the best – at implementing large-scale PV projects. This was demonstrated through both the Noor Abu Dhabi and Al Dhafra projects. Abu Dhabi’s authorities made the process clear and fast while setting high tender requirements and demanding high-level qualifications from participants.
When we started, Noor Abu Dhabi was to be the first giga-scale solar project and Al Dhafra was to be the second. Both had very competitive tariffs. The Abu Dhabi solar programme is utilising a well-structured and proven IPP model with low development risk, shortening the time typically required to achieve financial closure. We signed the PPA and closed the finance for both Al Dhafra and Noor Abu Dhabi in less than six months from shortlisting/award.
The well-defined scope and structure also reduces the construction and operation risk. We delivered Noor Abu Dhabi on time and under budget.
The bid submission deadline for the Al Dhafra project was on March 1, 2020, just before Covid-19 restrictions came into place. We managed to conduct everything remotely and were awarded the project at the beginning of May. We then managed to finalise and sign the PPA from early May to late July. We signed the EPC contract around October and reached financial closure in December.
Reaching the notice to proceed and having financial closure in five to six months is something you do not see elsewhere. We are very experienced developers and know the industry well, but huge credit must be given to the offtaker and Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy programme. It was a similar story for Noor Abu Dhabi.
When will the Al Dhafra solar project be fully operational?
It will take around two years from financial closing to reach the COD [commercial operation date]. In the solar industry, we can act quickly and can implement generation of 2 GW within this timeframe. What is critical in the project is the high-voltage substation.
The scope of the project includes the procurement and installation of four 560-MVA HV transformers that shall be connected to a 400-kV electrical special facility to enable the evacuation of up to 1,500 MW through transmission lines.
How can the UAE further develop its renewable energy infrastructure?
We are missing a piece of legislation that allows end users to participate in the energy enterprise. Most programmes in Abu Dhabi are large-scale solar PV projects. Unfortunately, there are no attractive regulations that allow end users and consumers to participate in the energy enterprise.
Utility-scale programmes come with advantages of low cost of energy and certainty in implementation and operation. However, distributed energy has its own unique advantages in real know-how transfer and creating local jobs and industries in addition to enhancing the awareness of renewable energy.
Dubai has a particular regulation for net metering which has created a rooftop and distributed energy market. However, in our view net metering is a regulation that allows you to offset your own consumption. Under net metering regulations, the returns of the solar investment are driven not by a solar system’s capex and opex, but by how much electricity one buys from the grid. One cannot adjust the tariff for solar systems and accordingly it will be challenging to guarantee a sustainable long-term market and growth.
How is Jinko Power contributing to the development of technology in the industry?
Jinko is a global leader and one of the key founders of the global PV industry in both the upstream (i.e. manufacturing) and downstream (i.e. IPP and development). Jinko has participated in almost every solar market in the world and this has helped in accumulating a unique experience and lessons learned in the entire value chain from manufacturing, to development, construction, operation and finance.
Jinko Power has built a top-notch and full-fledged in-house team and capacity that covers the entire value chain including development, legal, project finance, engineering, construction and project management and operation and maintenance.
We take a lead role in all projects and consortiums that we participate in. We utilise our Chinese roots well in mobilising the key elements from China including finance and EPC contractors in addition to the key components.
Jinko’s strong technical background is one of our key values. We introduced multiple new technologies at Noor Abu Dhabi, starting with the mono PERC. We used high-efficiency modules that meant better ratio and generation per square metre.
Additionally, we introduced a robotic cleaning solution, which was used for the first time on a large scale globally and was challenged by all stakeholders in the project till we managed to prove it. Cleaning of 3.2 million panels spread over a 7-square-kilometre property on a daily or bidaily basis is a huge undertaking, particularly in the UAE. It was our biggest challenge during submission and preparation for the Noor Abu Dhabi bid. Manual cleaning or cleaning with water is not an option in Abu Dhabi. Since 2019, we have been cleaning the Noor Abu Dhabi project using a very efficient and cost-effective solution and we will use the same concept in Al Dhafra and other upcoming projects in the MEA region.
In the Al Dhafra project, we will implement bifacial modules of both P and N type technologies. Such technologies enable the generation of the electricity from both sides, which shall boost the generation of the plant. We are committed to always look for new technology enhancements and utilise them in our projects, be it modules, mounting systems or cleaning solutions.
Did the Covid-19 pandemic impact Jinko Power’s operations in the UAE?
We are content with the way the pandemic has been managed in the UAE from a business perspective. Many countries in the region saw delays in projects, programmes and tenders by about six months to a year. Fortunately, project development and investment plans did not stop for Jinko Power.
Our international divisions have worked from home offices for many years now. I personally have been working majorly from home for almost a decade. We saw little impact on our daily operations from a project development perspective.
We believe that people have recognised that coming to the office is not the most efficient way to work and many tasks can be accomplished remotely. I trust this will be a new norm and many people will continue to work partly from home. For example, all negotiation, award, PPA negotiation and signing, due diligence work and achieving financial close for the USD 1-billion Al Dhafra solar PV project has been done remotely. There hasn’t been a single physical meeting.
Operations at Noor Abu Dhabi were not interrupted. The PV technology (in general) is designed for almost zero/low maintenance apart from the cleaning, but in our case we clean by a robotic automated solution. We found out how useful this is during the pandemic.