Behind the scenes of the world’s largest single-site solar energy project

As the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park takes shape, DHL Global Forwarding is playing a vital role in transporting breakbulk cargo for the massive energy project.
21 December 2020 •

On the outskirts of Dubai, millions of solar panels in neatly arranged rows stand tall under the blistering desert sun.

Eight years in the making, the 5,000-megawatt (MW) Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park project is still gaining steam, as it enters its fourth and largest of five phases.

Part of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 to reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels, the ambitious project aims to provide 75 percent of Dubai’s total power output from clean energy by 2050.

For the fourth phase of the AED 50 billion (€11.65 billion) project, construction involves the building of a 600MW parabolic basin complex and the world’s tallest concentrated solar tower at 260 meters.

Making it happen

Preparing for the record-breaking project was no walk in the park, according to Nihal Lambay, Projects Manager for DHL Industrial Projects United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park
An artist impression of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (PHOTO: Dubai Electricity and Water Authority)

Electrical transformers, with the heaviest weighing up to 250 tons, had to be transported by sea from China and Germany to Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port, where they were offloaded onto trailers for a 110-kilometer journey to the project site.

“While the process may sound fairly straightforward, it took multiple stakeholders working in tandem to pull this off. In fact, planning began as early as 16 to 18 months before the first move for the project in November this year,” said Nihal.

The first leg of the move — a 6,000 nautical-mile journey by sea — required a heavy lift vessel that would protect the shipment from damage in transit.

To identify and charter the best-suited vessel, the Industrial Projects teams from China and Dubai worked with their global partners to prepare detailed technical and industrial drawings, and to conduct motion and acceleration studies to understand the stress factors on the transformers during the journey.

As part of the planning done almost a year ahead of the move, the team in Dubai carried out comprehensive route surveys to map out the precise route from the port to the site — taking into account the restrictions that could affect the feasibility of the shipment.

A DHL Industrial Projects team member looks on as one of the transformers is being offloaded from the vessel at Jebel Ali port.
A DHL Industrial Projects team member looks on as one of the transformers is being offloaded from the vessel at Jebel Ali port.

“Conducting an in-depth assessment early provides the team ample time to obtain the necessary regulatory approval and complete the paperwork to execute a move like this one,” explained Nihal.

The preliminary study revealed that the bridges along the route from the port to the site had load and height restrictions that could not accommodate the transport of the breakbulk cargo.

Together with the customer and sub-contractors, the Industrial Projects team quickly engaged the public road work authorities to seek permission for building bypasses to overcome the structural blockages.

Such pre-technical studies are just one facet of a successful operation, shared Zarir Bhiwandiwalla, Head of DHL Industrial Projects UAE. As the actual move inches closer, further cargo-specific checks and processes are needed.

“Weeks before the cargo arrival, we completed method statements and transport drawings for the road freight movements. This was followed by a thorough vetting process by our in-house experts on Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) and technical engineering,” said Zarir of the move.

When the vessel arrived, the team also conducted final site inspections to verify that the conditions were optimal for the move, such as ensuring that were no physical obstacles, poor ground conditions, or missing preparation measures.

Preparing for the unexpected

There was little room for error during the move, especially since breakbulk freight movements can only take place between 2 am and 5 am, as mandated by the city’s road authority.

During the three-hour window, the shipment had to be accompanied by a convoy of police escorts while in transit. In total, the Industrial Projects team completed the move of four transformers within two nights, ahead of the original schedule.

One of the transformers at the foot of the concentrated solar tower in the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park
One of the transformers at the foot of the concentrated solar tower in the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

Smooth shipments like this do not happen by chance, noted Zarir. “Our rigorous risk assessment procedure mitigates the risks involved to the lowest level possible. As part of our standard practice, we consider the crucial factors that can make or break a move,” he added.

Elements such as defective equipment, rigging, positioning of the crane, or unstable ground conditions are scenarios that have to be considered by the team.

“For instance, loose sand is a common issue we face here. To ensure stability during the offloading, we implemented ground strengthening measures by laying specialized steel plates that ensure an adequate spread of the load,” explained Nihal.

For the team that handles up to 60 heavy lifting moves a year, their technical expertise continues to stand the team in good stead.

With the last phase of the solar park still to come, more freight movements — including large steel structures and heat exchangers — are expected to follow.

“Regardless of the scale of the project and its specific challenges, we adopt the consistent precautions and measures to ensure the safe, efficient delivery of breakbulk shipments for our customers,” said Zarir.

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