Sahara switches on the world’s largest solar plant
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- Posted by Darryn Van Hout
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What will be the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world has just been switched on in Ourrzazate, Morocco.
Sitting right on the edge of the Saharan desert across thousands of acres is the Noor complex solar plant.
It can already generate up to 160 megawatts of power but upon completion it will be able to reach a huge 580 megawatts; potentially enough energy to power in excess of one million homes by the year 2018.
According to the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) finance group, the plant will decrease the amount of carbon emissions by a predicted 760,000 tonnes every year.
On February 4 this year the initial phase of the project’s three phases was started by His Majest Mohammed VI of Morocco, with the click of a button.
The Noor complex is already up there with the biggest solar power grids worldwide, and there is still more to come.
How the Noor solar plant works
The Noor complex utilizes concentrating solar power (CSP) which is a more expensive option than traditional photovoltaic solar panels, however CSP allows energy to be stored and used later at night time or on overcast days.
There are currently 500,000 mirrors installed, which focus on the light from the sun and heat up fluid on a pipeline to about 400 degree Celsius, when mixed with water.
This then produces a steam which moves a turbine and subsequently generates electrical power.
Morocco gets around 3,000 sunlight hours every year, so generally there is no shortage of solar power.
However if there ever were to be, the plant is able to continue generating power during the night.
World Bank, a partial financier of the plant, explains that during the day the warmth from the mirrors melts a cylinder full of salt, which can provide three hours of power after sunset.
650,000 locals are currently provided with solar power from dawn until then, and when the plant is finished it will provide 20 hours of power.
Morocco leading the shift towards renewable energy
As 97 per cent of Morocco’s energy needs are satisfied by imported fossil fuels, the country is keen to start the shift to renewables and to diversify their energy sources.
World Bank Country Director for the Maghreb, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, says that, “With this bold step toward a clean energy future, Morocco is pioneering a greener development and developing a cutting edge solar technology,”.
“The returns on this investment will be significant for the country and its people, by enhancing energy security, creating a cleaner environment, and encouraging new industries and job creation,”.
World Bank’s project manager and Senior Counsel, Sameh Mobarek, stated, “Africa, in general, and North Africa in particular, have tremendous potential for solar generation that remain largely untapped,”.
“Morocco’s leadership in this area may provide the model for other countries to follow in pursuing development of their energy sectors in a sustainable manner,” he said.
In addition to reducing carbon emissions and lessening fossil fuel dependence, it’s expected the plant will increase renewable energy’s share of total power generation from 13 to 42 per cent.
The rate of poverty in Ouarzazate town is sitting at 23 per cent, and it’s hoped that the better electricity supply and cleaner energy source will reduce flickering light bulbs and hospital equipment malfunctions.
Photo courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection