Water but No Grid: A Microgrid Solves Dilemma for UAE Agricultural Operation

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There was water, but no electric grid at the site Themar Al Emarat chose for its new hydroponic farm in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The agricultural company found the solution in a 5.94 MW off-grid microgrid.

Key to the farm’s success is the ability to cool and chill water for cultivating mushrooms, lettuce and other crops for local consumption, according to the project partners. 

Located in the Al Kaheef area of the Emirate of Sharjah, the site had readily available freshwater. But the utility grid doesn’t extend out to the location. 

off-grid microgrid

Solar facility at Themar Al Emarat agricultural facility. Courtesy of Caterpillar

“The customer chose this site because they need to install the facility in a rural location with water availability. It is currently cost prohibitive to extend the power grid to this location, and that is not expected to happen in the near future,” said Rob Schueffner, hybrid energy segment manager for Caterpillar, whose microgrid solution was chosen for the project via Cat dealer Al-Bahar.

The off-grid microgrid combines solar photovoltaics and diesel generation, battery energy storage, electrical gear and electronics with real-time microgrid management and controls to power the greenhouse operation.

Energy a big chunk of costs for farm

“We are not trying to convince a customer to utilize a specific technology,” Schueffner said. “We simply collect all the necessary information about their current operating requirements and consider their future projections to select the right product to achieve the project objectives.” 

Energy consumption accounts for the majority of long-term operating costs for technologically advanced agricultural farms that use climate control systems to support production during the summer in the UAE, according to Themar Al Emarat CEO Ghanem Al Hajr.

So the agricultural company “wanted the most reliable energy solution at the lowest cost to support this 24/7, climate-controlled agriculture project,” Schueffner said. “The ability to provide a mix of generation sources that could be optimized for the different seasons was a critical attribute that Cat dealer Al-Bahar could provide.”

The microgrid platform Themar Al Emarat chose is popular in the region “with millions of proven running hours in the harsh UAE climate and conditions,” Schueffner said.

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Off-grid microgrid design

Scheduled to begin operation in late 2019, the off-grid microgrid includes 23,000 solar photovoltaic modules that will generate as much as 2.7 MW. Another 2.34 MW will come from and five Cat 3412 diesel generator sets. Other core components include bi-directional inverters and a 286 kWh/250-kW grid stability module incorporated in a Cat battery energy storage system.

The project also uses a Cat Master Microgrid Controller, which will autonomously manage the microgrid system, making use of Cat Connect Remote Asset Monitoring for real-time data collection and off-site monitoring of system performance data, according to project partners.

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