Last week, on 4 February 2016, His Majesty Mohammed VI of Morocco switched on the solar plant and started the first phase of the three-part solar project, which is believed to become the largest one in the world by the time it is completed.
Morocco's massive new solar power plant is situated in the Sahara Desert near the city of Ouarzazate, which some may recognize as a filming location for Hollywood greats such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and even "Gladiator".
According to Solar GCC Alliance website, Morocco is facing two major energy issues. The country depends heavily on outside sources of energy supply (97%) and strives for more independence. On top of that, the demand for electric energy is growing (6% to 8% annual increase since 1998).
With approximately 3,000 hours per year of sunshine, Morocco launched the world's largest solar energy project, planning to generate 2,000 megawatts of solar power by the year 2020 and provide 18% of Morocco's annual electricity generation. Noor 1, the first wave of power production at the town of Ouarzazate, already provides 160 megawatts (MW) of the later expected total of 580MW capacity. Once completed in 2018, it's expected to cover 6,000 acres (about the size of the country's capital city), providing power for 1.1 million people.
The $9 billion-project includes constructing five solar power stations with crescent-shaped solar mirrors, each 40 feet tall, that follow the movement of the sun to absorb as much solar energy as possible and concentrate them on a steel pipeline, carrying a synthetic thermal oil solution. Namely, the plant does not use photovoltaic solar panels – it relies on solar thermal technology. The oil can heat up to 740℉ and create steam that powers the turbines, which then produce electricity.
By 2020, Morocco plans to generate 42% of its energy from renewable sources, with one-third of that percentage coming from solar, wind and hydropower each. The developers hope that with this project the country will finally be able to meet its own energy requirements and even export the excess energy north to Europe.