'Green Silk Road' a major step on clean energy journey

By Wang Yuke | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-09-25 08:49
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Loai Sharkawi (far left), a construction manager at the solar power project, exchanges ideas with fellow engineers. ZHU WEIJIE/CHINA DAILY

Record-breaking feats

Alobaidli said the Al Dhafra solar project is a testament to China's expertise and competence. It reinforces how China's solar manufacturing sector is supporting regions participating in the BRI to meet their zero-carbon targets. The solar project has put the China-UAE relationship on the BRI map and broken many records in the process.

Despite global supply chains being thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic, CMEC completed the Al Dhafra project on schedule.

"We were installing almost 20 megawatts a day, setting a record. When we started our renewable energy journey, specifically solar energy, in 2010, it took a year to build a 10-megawatt plant in Masdar (a sustainable community). In the large-scale Al Dhafra PV project, thanks to experienced contractors such as CMEC, we were able to install 20 megawatts every day," Alobaidli said. The project involved obtaining 4 million bifacial solar PV modules from the Chinese mainland to be mounted on 30,000 single-axis sun trackers. "More than 10,000 containers were used to ship the modules. It was challenging," Wang said.

He added that the desert's complex and varied topography posed many engineering problems.

The site's proximity to the sea means the subsoil is highly saline and alkaline. To protect the piles, whose ends go deep into the ground, from corrosion, concrete had to be poured into the holes during piling works.

The high water level to the northeast caused the soil to collapse during the piling process, so sunken soil choked the burrowed holes. The solution was to insert plastic tubes to anchor the soil before burrowing.

Loose soil in the dune-dominated southeastern region was a problem until it was displaced and concrete was substituted to provide a more stable structure.

Building the 400 kilovolts GIS(gas-insulated switchgear) substation was also demanding. "It had to be scrutinized by Abu Dhabi Transmission and Despatch Co, which adheres to (one of the most) rigorous, hard and fast standards," Wang said.

The rigorous vetting and approval process also hindered construction. "But we still made it within 22 months, which would have been 35 months under the local timeline. It had registered 14 million safety work hours by early June," he said.

According to Alobaidli, the plant serves as a "blueprint" for upcoming projects of the same size and magnitude in Abu Dhabi. In addition to its environmental merits, the project boosted the local labor market.

"At the peak, we had more than 4,000 workers from various countries living in the UAE. A lot of local subcontractors benefited from the project and offered people full-time jobs," he said.

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