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World's largest solar thermal plant online

April 11, 2012 -

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, April 11 (UPI) -- The world's largest solar thermal plant has gone into full operation in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh after a six-month trial, officials said.

The $4.7 million solar heating plant was designed by the Austrian research institute AEE INTEC and manufactured by Austria's GREENoneTEC company, China's Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

The plant, using 390,000 square feet of solar panels, feeds solar energy into a district heating grid to provide heat and hot water for up to 40,000 students and faculty of Princess Noura Bint Abdulraman University.

To protect the installation from sandstorms that are a common occurrence in Saudi Arabia, special solar glass and an improved mounting system were designed, GREENoneTEC head Robert Kanduth said in Vienna.

Austrian Minister of Transport, Innovation and Technology Doris Bures called it an example of the Austrian government's success at promoting and supporting domestic innovation companies.

One-third of solar panels used within the European Union come from Austria, she said, and about 80 percent of Austrian-made solar panels were exported, with a volume that has quadrupled over the last five years.