The $600 million Shams 1 solar power plant, the largest facility of its kind in the world, was inaugurated on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the government said.

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan inaugurated the plant, in which Spain's Abengoa has an interest, in a desert area in the western part of the emirate, one of the seven that make up the UAE.

The solar power plant is near the town of Medinat Zayed, the government said in a statement.

Shams 1 "is an important step on the road of the Emirates toward a diversified economy and secure long-term energy," the sheikh said.

The plant was constructed over a three-year period by an international consortium formed by the UAE's Masdar, which has a 60 percent stake, France's Total, which has a 20 percent interest, and Spain's Abengoa, which has a 20 percent stake.

The joint venture partners will maintain and operate the energy facility, the government said.

"The Middle East possesses nearly half of the world's renewable energy potential," Abengoa Solar president Santiago Seage said.

The plant covers 2.5 sq. kilometers (0.96 sq. miles) and has 768 panels with the capacity to produce 100 MW of clean energy.

The solar energy facility is expected to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of about 20,000 homes as part of the UAE's efforts to diversify its energy mix. EFE