Morocco’s megawatt solar plant powers up

Story highlights

World's largest concentrated solar power plant opened in 2016

The project could power one million homes

CNN  — 

Morocco is close to completing the world’s largest concentrated solar power farm.

The site near the city of Ouarzazate – famous as a filming location for Hollywood blockbusters like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator” – aims to produce enough energy to power over one million homes by the end of the year and reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 760,000 tons per year.

The first part of a three-phase project of the thermosolar farm was officially turned on in 2016 by His Majesty Mohammed VI of Morocco.

“It’s been operational since 2016. The final two are under construction and are in the final stages and should be fully operational by the end of this year,” Moez Cherif, Lead Energy Economist for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region for the World Bank, told CNN.

Harnessing the power of salt

The solar plant, called the Noor complex, uses concentrating solar power (CSP) which is more expensive to install than the widely used photovoltaic panels, but unlike them, enables the storage of energy for nights and cloudy days.

Mirrors focus the sun’s light and heat up a liquid, which, when mixed with water, reaches around 400 degree Celsius. The steam produced from this process drives a turbine and generates electrical power.

A cylinder full of salt is melted by the warmth from the mirrors during the day, and stays hot enough at night to provide up to three hours of power, according to World Bank, who financed construction of the plant with a $400 million loan combined with $216 million provided from the Clean Technology Fund.

“Morocco is consider as a leader in the MENA region at least as far as renewables are concerned,” said Cherif.

Setting an example

Imported fossil fuels currently provide for 97% of Morocco’s energy need, the World Bank says. As a result the country is keen to diversify and start using renewable energy.

“Africa, in general, and North Africa in particular, have tremendous potential for solar generation that remain largely untapped,” Sameh Mobarek, Senior Counsel and World Bank’s project manager told CNN in 2016 when the project was first switched on.

Lasting impact

An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 concentrated solar power plant

It is hoped that the project will positively impact the surrounding area. Approximately 583,000 people live in Ouarzazate town 10km (6.2 miles) from the site.

“Morocco, and Tunisia and some others to an extent, have been rather stable from a political perspective. The supportive regulatory environment, not just for Concentrated Solar Power, but for renewables more generally is also very important,” said Harald Heubaum, a global energy and climate policy expert at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS).

In 2016, the poverty rate there was 23% but the hope is that the cleaner energy and better supply will reduce the occurrence of flickering lightbulbs and malfunctioning hospital equipment.