Heriot-Watt University announces real-time testing site for solar energy
Researchers at Heriot-Watt’s University Dubai campus are launching a solar energy testing facility to help countries across the world develop new solar technologies.
Funded by the UK Government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, with support from the British Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the site will hold around 30 solar panels and a weather station providing live climate data.
An on-campus centre will analyse real-time information against theoretical models, helping engineers improve their technology performance.
The site is an extension of a parallel Edinburgh-based facility, where companies can test their technologies in typical UK weather conditions. Mohamed Al-Musleh, an assistant professor at Heriot-Watt’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences in Dubai, is a co-investigator in the project.
With an average of almost 4,000 yearly hours of sunshine, according to climate data, Dubai provides conditions “to get very clean, repeatable testing conditions” in a way that is very difficult elsewhere in Europe, said project leader and solar expert Tadhg O'Donovan.
Further explaining the programme details, he stated: “Our research group tests how solar photovoltaic generates electricity and then how we store it in a battery for use when we need it, which is becoming more and more important because of the intermittency of supply.
“We also look at using solar for cooling applications or for water desalination, which are both really important here in the Middle East.”
Glasgow-based company Soltropy has already signed up to use the facility. Funding from the Scottish Food and Drink Net Zero Challenge Fund will allow the firm to install its innovative water heating technology at the testing site to continue research.
Soltropy managing director Stuart Speake said: “We have big ambitions to continue developing our technology, so it’s invaluable for us to have access to a site like this, where we have near ideal weather conditions and can measure performance with real-time weather and environmental data.”
It is believed the programme has the potential to become a significant measure in both UK and UAE energy transition schemes.
Recent reports from Power Up Britain outlined the maximisation of solar panels as pivotal for the UK’s 2035 goals of quintupling the provision of solar energy.
Meanwhile, earlier last year, the United Nations reported that temperatures across Arab states are rising above the global average, making the project potentially critical for their decarbonisation agenda.
However, this is not the first push the UK Government carries out towards this strategy, as last month it announced a "solar roadmap", including multi-million funding opportunities for the sector, amongst other measures.
The Dubai campus will also become a host for the upcoming COP28 UN event, which will take place in UAE. Turning its top two floors into a fringe event hub, it will showcase the university’s sustainability research.