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Solar Island Ras Al Khaima

The world’s first floating solar island is being developed in the deserts of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). Construction of this mega project on the 90-metre diameter prototype started November 2007 in the Al Jazeera Al Hamra Area in Ras Al Khaima or RAK. The Islanad will be operational by the end of this year.

The $5-million (Dh18 million) prototype, funded by the RAK government, will serve as proof of concept for a bigger solar power plant. The concept is being developed by the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology, Inc (CSEM), a privately-held company carrying out applied research in technology and engineering.

Operating as a thermal solar power source, the island will not use any photovoltaic solar cells. Instead, strips of mirrors will be used to reflect the sun’s rays onto rows of water pipes, heating these to the point where the water turns to steam and is collected at a central turbine.

The RAK prototype will rest in a one-metre-deep pool of water. "The key to the design is its simplicity and relative low cost," said Philippe Mueller, Project Manager for CSEM UAE.

"With this prototype, we will be testing many aspects of the design, including whether it would be more feasible to directly produce electricity or hydrogen.

"Constructing this prototype on dry land makes it considerably easier to gather information on the feasibility of this project," he said.

The island can be positioned to float on high sea, on remote coastlines and even on shore.

"With solar, you always need a large flat surface area, without any nearby structure or land masses that might cast a shadow. Many countries don’t have that luxury, which is why doing this offshore is such an advantage," he explained.

Asked why they chose RAK, Mueller said: "We required a location where we could get direct sun almost all year round, and near the equator for optimal results. It was also important to find a politically stable country to ensure the safety of the project and the team.

"And not the least of which, Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of RAK, seemed very interested and gave us $5 million to fund the project."

How it floats

The island itself will be made of a steel pipe ring with a polymer membrane stretched across it to serve as the surface.

This forms a "pocket" of air under the membrane, which will be over-pressurised by 0.1 bar (a unit of pressure) allowing the island to virtually hover over the water.

This allows the entire island to rotate towards the sun.

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