Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
Robots & Machines

Morocco Begins First Phase of World’s Largest Solar Plant

HARNESSING THE SUN

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has officially turned on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant located on the edge of the Sahara desert. By time it is fully operational in 2018, the plant will be as large as the Morocco’s capital city of Rabat, and is expected to be able to provide for the electricity needs of over 1.1 million people.

Noor 1, the first phase of the mega solar power plant, will generate 160 megawatts. That’s enough to supply 650,000 Moroccans with solar electricity from dawn until about three hours after sunset. In 2018, when the plant is running for 20 hours a day, that will swell to 580 megawatts.

Noor 1 is composed of a total of 500,000 curved mirrors, each about 12m (40ft) tall. These mirrors concentrate sunlight onto pipelines filled with a special fluid. This fluid is then used to heat up a source of water nearby, which becomes steam and spins turbines to generate energy.

The first phase will begin to help lessen Morocco’s dependence on oil imports, and stymie hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2020, Morocco aims to generate 42% of its energy from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. Currently, it imports a staggering 97% of its energy consumption.

INVESTING IN A CARBON NEUTRAL FUTURE

Morocco’s solar power project has been a multinational effort with over $3.9 billion invested in the project. Notable investors include German investment bank Kfw, who contributed $1 billion; the European Investment Bank, who contributed $596 million; and the World Bank, who contributed some $400 million. It’s clear that Europe is ready to bet on the country, which enjoys 3,000 hours of sunlight every year.

The activation of the plant has greater implications for the northern region of Africa too. Climate Investment Funds (CIF), one of the plant’s investors (they provided $435 million to the project), estimates that deploying 5GW of solar energy will drive down the cost of electricity production by 14%. Ramping it up to 15GW would bring costs down by 44%.

Morocco hopes to use the next UN Climate Change Conference, which it will host in November, as a springboard to realize its renewable energy ambitions. The country admits its 2020 goals are just the beginning. By the year 2030, it hopes to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

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