India may have the world’s largest solar plant, but Morocco is building a gigantic solar farm that could even power Europe. Dubbed as the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex (after the city near the place, nicknamed “the door to the desert”), this gigantic structure covers an area equivalent to about 200 football fields — roughly 1,400,000 sq m (15,000,000 sq ft) of desert.
The solar plant sits at the foot of the High Atlas mountains, 10 km (6 miles) away from Ouarzazate, where it’s exposed to around 330 days of pure sunshine. It has hundreds of mirrors, each about the size of a bus. These reflectors serve to focus energy from the sun onto synthetic oil flowing through a network of pipes. High-pressured water vapor, which powers a generator’s turbines, is produced using an oil super heated to about 350C (662F).
“It’s the same classic process used with fossil fuels, except that we are using the Sun’s heat as the source,” says Rachid Bayed of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), which is behind the project’s implementation.
Morocco expects that by 2020 it will generate 14% of its energy from solar power, and aims to produce about 52% of its own energy by 2030 by relying more on wind and water power generation. Morocco hopes that it will soon export energy to Europe, as the European Union contributed 60% of the project’s budget.
Certainly, with the cost of producing solar energy getting cheaper and the technology getting better, countries that are intent on getting rid of coal-generated electricity see the potential in harnessing the sun’s power. Now, there’s an island completely powered by solar energy and a country giving away it’s excess solar-generated energy.
Currently, the first phase of the Ouarzazate project called Noor 1 has exceeded the amount of energy expected to be produced. The plant continues to generate energy even after sunset, where surplus energy is stored in reservoirs of molten salts from sodium and potassium nitrate that can keep production going for three hours.