Saturday, 11 October 2008

Solar pioneer in the heart of oil country

The heart of the oil-fuelled middle east is an unlikely place to find a solar pioneer, but the tiny emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah is just that. Through collaboration with Swiss engineering company CSEM, RAK (as it's known by its residents) is planning a remarkable project which could have major implications for global energy supplies. The idea is to create floating islands of solar panels, and an 87m-diameter prototype is already under construction. Due for completion in 2009, the prototype is the first step towards a 1.6km-diameter solar island capable of generating 360GW hours annually.

The concept employs a plastic membrane stretched over a floating pontoon, resembling a giant trampoline. Banks of solar mirrors track the sun to reflect its rays onto pipes where water is superheated to create steam and thereby generate energy. With 350 days of guaranteed sunshine and calm coastline, RAK is considered an ideal site - raising the unlikely prospect that this tiny emirate could become an exporter of renewable energy.

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