by Tina Olivero

    The Petroleum Institute Clearly Sees the Future… and Sustainable Energy It Is!

    Energy is one of the most fundamental matters of our universe. It is one of the most important inputs to industrial applications and production settings, and thus a key for engineers and technologists to understand.

    The concept of energy and its transformation is extremely useful in explaining and predicting most natural phenomena. One form of energy can often be readily transformed into another with the help of a device; therefore, many forms of renewable energy are being combined with traditional energy, such as oil and gas, to produce “new energy systems” of the future. You might find wind turbines offshore, working to generate electricity for oil rigs. You may see solar and wind energy combined to provide motor power. Many multi-energy solutions are emerging the world over.

    New Energy in the UAE

    The United Arab Emirates (UAE), like many other countries in the world, are concerned about the impact of their lifestyle on the environment. The region was anxious, not only because it is a major oil and gas producing nation, but also because it has one of the highest CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions per capita.

    The region is aware that the supply of oil and gas is not expendable, and that someday, it will run out. As an energy-producing nation, the UAE is seeking to expand its energy portfolio into sources that can extend and/or complement the life of the countries’ oil and gas and be a future industry.

    Harmful gases from fossil fuels, which have been used over the years since the industrial revolution, have released immense amounts of carbon dioxide. This build up of CO2 has changed the global climate, increasing the temperature over a 100 year period by approximately an average of 1.4°C – 5.8°C, if the current industrial societies continue in their business as usual state.

    This effect of the temperature rise is more commonly referred to as the greenhouse effect, as gases such as CO2 trap energy from the sun, making atmosphere warming similar to that of a greenhouse. To protect against such a dramatic environmental change, it is very important to preserve and use carbon-based energy efficiently or find non-carbon- based energy sources to reduce carbon emission.

    Most renewable energy (RE) sources, non-carbon- based sources, are directly or indirectly derived from solar energy; consequently, if there is an abundance of sun, it is more likely that other forms of renewable energy could exist. For example, the wind is caused by the uneven heating effect of the sun (direct and indirect) on the earth’s atmosphere. Due to locations, this difference in temperature causes the wind to blow on the earth’s surface. Hence, wind energy is commonly known as a converted form of solar energy, as with most of the clean-energy sources. The location of the UAE in the Sun Belt region between -40° and +40° means that it has an ample supply of solar radiation available. Therefore, it is a prime contender for implementation and development of solar energy technologies.

    Solar Energy

    The earth’s surface receives about 47 percent of the total solar energy that reaches the earth, and only this amount is usable for solar applications. In addition, the solar power received by the earth is 8,000 times the power demand for mankind.

    Solar energy, if used in a sustainable way,can provide an environmentally benign source of energy: It has limited local environmental impact, very few regional detrimental results and almost no global impact if utilized in a sustainable way. For these reasons, photovoltaic (PV) applications have increased tremendously in the last decade alone. Photovoltaic refers to the usage of light sources to produce electricity.

    The greater the intensity of the light, the greater the flow of electricity; thus, solar radiation is a key factor in designing photovoltaic systems.

    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) (latitude 24° 27’ North and longitude 54° 23’ East) seems a diligent contender in the pursuit of renewable energy, and is a forerunner due to the climatic and geographic conditions. The UAE enjoys greater amounts of sunlight, averaging at about eight
    Moreover, the UAE has vast open spaces which can effortlessly accommodate huge solar panels. Forecasts suggest that by 2050, up to half of the UAE’s required energy will come from renewable sources.

    The Petroleum Institute

    The Petroleum Institute (PI) of Abu Dhabi, UAE, was created in 2001, with the goal of establishing itself as a world-class institution in engineering, education and research in areas of significance to the oil and gas and the broader energy industries. The PI’s sponsors and affiliates include Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and four major international oil companies.

    The campus has modern instructional laboratories and classroom facilities, and is now in the planning phase of three major research centers on its campus in Sas Al Nakhl, Abu Dhabi. Currently, the PI offers Bachelor degrees in Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical, Petroleum and Petroleum Geosciences, as well as Master of Engineering degrees in Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical and Petroleum Engineering. New engineering and science programs will be added in the future as needed.

    New Energy Research at PI

    At the helm of new energy research at PI, are Dr. Lana El Chaar and Dr. Lisa Ann Lamont, PI professors, supporting the new energy movement. The PI renewable energy group has taken the progressive step to incorporate this solar energy into the final year projects of PI students with the intention of supporting their learning for future demand.

    On the roof of the Petroleum Institute, students can monitor different solar panel solutions and their output on a day-to-day basis. Research has shown that a stand-alone photovoltaic (PV) system is the most promising solution to supply electric power to meet energy demand in isolated locations, and this technology can offer an interesting alternative to other currently existing sources of energy.

    Due to space constraint in the remote offshore oil and gas industry, a stand-alone system is used for cathodic protection, telemetry and valve control. However in such an environment, dust accumulation and bird droppings have been critical issues to the operation of off-grid solar devices. These factors do not only reduce the available power of the modules, but also makes the cost of solar devices ineffective since cleaning, especially on well-head towers, is very expensive due to the location.

    PI students research to find solutions to environmental challenges and work to find the best solar panel solutions available. As dust and bird droppings have been verified to cause negative impacts on the performance of offshore PV application where telemetry, measurement devices and controlling systems are critical loads, and require constant and accurate power supply – new solutions are essential.

    Currently, manual cleaning takes place on solar panels, but due to the location of these panels, this process is expensive and a more cost-effective solution is required. The advantages and disadvantages of existing solutions were investigated and evaluated by PI students. Based on several factors such as lack
    of distilled water, power source accessibility, space availability, location and maintenance, new technical solutions were developed and tested for performance outcome and the costing comparison.

    Findings clearly concluded that self-cleaning systems may add to the initial investment of the installed photovoltaic arrays, as the designs have a payback period of two years; however, with all considerations taken into play, clearly the stand-alone self-cleaning PV systems were the most effective solar solution for remote locations.

    PI students carried on their work seeking practical applications for solar energy, and came up with interesting solar energy innovations, such as solar- powered bikes and solar-powered wheel chairs. When student creativity is unleashed with the natural forces of the our world – clearly anything is possible!

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