Solar boats and electric buses: Take a ride on the UAE’s eco-friendly transportation

Thu, 2019-01-17 00:12

DUBAI: Want to take a trip to the future using eco-friendly
transportation? In the UAE, you can enjoy a ride on a solar-powered
abra on Dubai Creek, or hop on an electric bus in the

While Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week is shining a light on big
renewable energy projects, some more practical uses are already
underway in the UAE, serving as a taster of the ground-breaking
initiatives the Gulf is expected to witness as it moves toward a
sustainable future.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority has just launched an
electric 20-seater water taxi, powered by a 20-kilowatt (kW) motor
with solar panels on top. 

It has 87 percent lower emissions than regular abras, with
expected operations on Dubai Creek, Jumeirah Beach, the new islands
and the Dubai Water Canal. A total of 61 boats are planned by

Back on the road, work is underway in Dubai on two solar-powered
bus shelters as part of a trial for shelters in locations off the
electric power grid. 

The solar power generated will be used to operate lights,
air-conditioners and billboards.

In Abu Dhabi, Masdar has launched the first electric passenger
bus in the region. The Eco-Bus will serve a six-stop route between
Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station and Masdar City, with a
free service until the end of March. 

Seating 30 passengers, it has a range of 150 km per battery
charge, with solar panels used to power its auxiliary systems.

An abra awaits passengers on Dubai Creek. (Supplied

With experts predicting that global solar installations will
grow steadily in the coming years — by 5.2 percent annually
between 2017 and 2022 — the combination of batteries, solar and
other renewables is expected to cause a dramatic transformation in
the world’s energy markets. Some of this is already trickling
down to street level.

“Buses, taxis and other fleet vehicles are driven
continuously, contributing more to urban pollution than vehicles of
similar engine sizes,” said Stephen King, lecturer in media at
Middlesex University Dubai and a UAE-based member of the Climate
Reality Project, a non-profit organization involved in education
and advocacy related to climate change. 

“Providing electric options for these vehicles is a positive
step in improving air quality, which is a key issue (in the

According to the Climate Reality Project, several studies show
that electric vehicles are likely to cost the same as, or even less
than, regular internal combustion vehicles within the next decade,
even without incentives. 

A February 2017 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF)
found that the unsubsidized total cost of ownership of battery
electric vehicles will fall below that of internal combustion
engine vehicles by 2022. 

From there, the report projected a steadily increasing rate of
adoption, reaching global sales of 41 million — 25 percent of the
total market share — by 2040. 

“Solar is quite suitable for meeting small local loads without
a grid connection, and electric buses are increasingly popular
around the world because their running costs are low compared with
internal combustion engines,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar at

“Solar power can take on a role in mostly bulk energy
generation in the daytime. Solar photovoltaics (PV) is now one of
the lowest-cost generation options in sunny regions, with prices
below $25 per megawatt (MW) in sunny areas, where political
stability makes the cost of capital low.”

Chase said it is now possible to generate energy without
significant carbon dioxide emissions, for close to — or even less
than — the cost of generating from fossil fuels. 

“This will be incredibly attractive to utilities and
governments. The Middle East (is likely to) build solar power
plants for a large chunk of its electricity demand increase in the
future, at least until the daytime need is well met,” she

“Electric vehicles for public transport are also likely to be
used increasingly, possibly lagging adoption in oil-rich countries
where the fuel costs are less.” 

Masdar’s electric passenger bus is a first for the Gulf region.
(Getty Images)

China, for example, already has 400,000 e-buses. “Some
batteries will probably be used for shifting demand to the daytime,
and e-vehicles will be encouraged to charge in the daytime,”
Chase said. “There will also be some rooftop solar adoption where
government policy supports it.”

Saudi Arabia also sees the potential in solar. The Kingdom’s
Renewable Energy Project Development Office plans to tender 11 PV
power projects, with a combined capacity of 2,225 MW this

The Kingdom’s solar target for 2023 has been increased from
5.9 gigawatts (GW) to 20 GW, and set at 40 GW for 2030. 

Last year, the Saudi Electricity Co. signed a deal with the
Tokyo Electric Power Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Takaoka Toko Co. for
the first electric vehicle pilot project in the Kingdom. As part of
the agreement, fast-charger stations will charge vehicles in 30

The potential is high. Experts in 2002 tipped that the global
solar market would grow 1 GW annually by 2010. The actual growth in
2010 turned out to be 17 times that. 

“The world installed a record 98 GW of solar PV capacity in
2017, far more than the net additions of any other technology —
renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear,” King said. 

“Although solar energy technologies have been around for
decades, it is only in recent years that installations have really
started to take off,” he said. “Falling costs, technological
improvements, increased competition and government incentives have
been key drivers of this growth.”

Global solar capacity is said to have surpassed 400 GW for the
first time in 2017. Although countries such as China, Japan,
Germany, the US and India have historically been the largest
players, solar growth in coming years is expected to depend
increasingly on middle-income countries and emerging markets. 

“Clearly, what was once a niche technology is now firmly in
the mainstream,” King said. “Solar has a lot of potential in
the region and around the world, and a number of important projects
have been initiated in recent years.”

The BNEF report also revealed that the global energy storage
market is projected to double six times between 2016 and 2030,
rising to 125-305 GW per hour. 

“This is a similar trajectory to the remarkable expansion that
the solar industry went through from 2000 to 2015, in which the
share of PV as a percentage of total generation doubled seven
times,” King said. 

“Energy storage, both utility scale and behind the meter, will
be a crucial source of flexibility throughout this period, and will
be essential to integrating increasing levels of renewable

But when it comes to achieving six hours of full electricity
production per day, challenges remain. 

Kyle Weber, an associate at Evera, which aims to identify and
address key sustainability gaps in the mobility sector, said: “It
is a resource that requires a lot of understanding to utilize

“In the case of an electric bus, you need to store the energy
between when it’s generated and when it’s utilized, which means
more cost, complexity, and things that can go wrong.”

On buses, Evera is looking into charging batteries outside a
vehicle slowly during the day, before swapping them in and out of
the vehicle while it is being used. 

“Solar is also great for things like process heat. Heat can be
used to do all sorts of things from cooking to generating steam,
and desalinating water to powering a pump or producing clean
hydrogen,” Weber said.

* * *


The solar projects in the region

The Gulf is wholeheartedly adopting solar power to meet some of
its energy needs. Several projects are underway across the region,
including the UAE, where there are plans to increase
power-generation capacity by around 21 GW, and where solar capacity
is expected to contribute
26.1 percent of the total additional generation capacity. 

According to the Climate Reality Project, the world’s largest
concentrated solar plant is due to be completed by 2021 near Dubai
and is expected to have a 1,000-MW capacity. 

Dubai is home to the first utility-scale solar project in the
Middle East. The UAE has 5.45 GW of new solar projects in
development as of March 2017, and the Mohammed bin Rashid
Al-Maktoum Solar Park is expected to be the largest concentrated
solar plant in the world when it is completed in 2030. 

Dubai aims to produce 75 percent of its energy from clean
sources by 2050, and its target energy mix for 2030 consists of 25
percent solar.

The Moroccan Solar Energy Plan aims to install 2 GW of solar
power by 2020. On completion, the concentrated solar power complex
will generate more than 500 MW of renewable electricity for 1.1
million Moroccans by 2018, reducing carbon emissions by 760,00 tons

By 2020, Egypt aims to develop 40 solar parks of around 50 MW to
meet its 2-GW renewables target, with clean energy accounting for
20 percent of the country’s energy mix. Its first utility-scale
solar plant, credited to the government-sponsored feed-in tariff,
will generate power for up to 15,000 homes. 

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
Solar boats and electric buses: Take a ride on the UAE’s eco-friendly transportation