Morocco Switches On The World’s Largest Solar Power Plant

morocco solar power plant

The Noor Concentrated Solar Power plant in Ouarzazate has finally turned on its lights, beginning a new era of solar dominance for Morocco.

Over a million Moroccan homes will benefit from the clean solar energy created by the Noor power plant once all of its phases are operational by the end of 2018. The three phases of the project, called Noor I, II, and III, will generate 500 megawatts (MW) of power annually. With that much of the country’s power coming from environmentally-friendly solar, it’s estimated that Noor will offset approximately 760,000 tons of carbon emissions every year. That’s a long-term reduction of 17.5 million tons of CO2 over the next 25 years. Moreover, the move away from fossil fuel power will reduce Morocco’s oil use by at least 2 million tons of oil.

Morocco is currently very dependent on fossil fuels and energy imports, and its government has made renewable energy a priority in order to improve the country’s energy security and environmental sustainability. Morocco’s location on the Mediterranean coast also puts it in an excellent position to sell solar power to European nations who don’t have as much space and sun to build large solar plants themselves.

The Hot Potential of Concentrated Solar

Concentrated Solar Power plants (CSPs) are very different from the photovoltaic solar panels many people associate with solar power generation. CSPs use large curved mirrors that can be moved to track the sun and focus concentrated sunlight onto insulated pipes to heat a solution inside. In the case of the Noor CSP that solution is a synthetic oil heat-transfer solution, which reaches temperatures of near 400C before being channeled into a heat engine where it transforms water into steam to move large turbines. In order to continue power generation overnight, the Noor facility uses a heat tank filled with molten salts capable of retaining heat energy for hours, allowing the turbines to keep spinning even in the dark.
CSPs come with high technology and building costs, which can make it difficult to attract investors, despite the International Energy Agency’s estimate that up to 11% of the world’s energy could be supplied by CSPs by 2050. The $3 billion dollars needed to get the Noor project off the ground came in part from the Climate Investment Fund, which put $435 million towards the project, and the World Bank and African Development Bank, who together invested $700 million. Public financing and low-cost debt arrangements helped to bring the initial costs of the project down, which reduced the amount of subsidies necessary from Morocco’s government.
The Noor plant will be doing a lot more than just powering Moroccan homes and businesses with solar. It’s creating good local jobs, both through the plant itself and the construction and maintenance of the power stations necessary to get the electricity out to the communities where it’s needed. Clean energy will be helping Morocco’s economy to grow and remain resilient and innovative in a changing climate. And with Morocco hosting next year’s COP22 climate talks, it will soon have an opportunity to show off its solar ambitions to the rest of the world.

Photo Credit: via FlickR under CC license

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