This week, the world's largest concentrated solar plant went into operation. Shams 1 is a massive 100-megawatt power plant in Abu Dhabi with some impressive numbers. The $750 million project produces enough energy to power 20,000 homes and stretches across an area of desert, west of the United Arab Emirates capital, the size of 285 football fields.
“With the demand for energy rising exponentially, the region is undergoing a major transformation in how it generates electricity," said Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, the state-owned company behind the power plant. "In fact, the Middle East is poised for major investments in renewable energy, and Shams 1 proves the economic and environmental advantage of deploying large-scale solar projects.”
The UAE isn't the only oil-rich country making major investments in solar. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer of oil, is investing $100 billion in solar in order to produce one-third of its energy from the resource by 2032.
But why are countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia making massive investments in solar? Here's Todd Woody's take at Quartz:
For OPEC states, renewable energy is a long-term strategy to preserve their most precious resource. The more solar electricity sun-soaked, oil-rich nations like the United Arab Emirates can produce to power their domestic economies, the more petroleum they conserve to export.
If you were hoping it was a green initiative, sorry. It's simple, really. Oil is more profitable when you can sell it to energy-poor countries desperate for oil and slow to develop renewables instead of using it on your own energy needs.
UAE President Shaikh Khalifa said as much: "The domestic production of renewable energy extends the life of our country’s valuable hydrocarbon resources and supports the growth of a promising new industry."