Morocco opens largest solar plant in Sahara

A new concentrated solar plant (CSP) in Morocco will be the world’s largest when completed. The first phase was launched on February 4, 2016. When completed, It could produce energy to power 1 million households by 2018.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It’s capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants. It is estimated that the plant will reduce the country’s energy dependence by about 2 and half million tons of oil, while also lowering carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year.

Details of NOOR I

Start Date: February 4, 2016
Solar Resource: 2,635 kWh/m2/yr
Cost: USD 1.2 billion (approx)
Tariff: USD 18.9 per kWh
Solar-Field Inlet Temp: 293°C
Solar-Field Outlet Temp: 393°C
 Storage Type: 2-tank indirect
Storage Capacity: 3 hours
Thermal Storage Description: Molten Salt

CSP is such a promising technology that the International Energy Agency estimates up to 11 percent of the world’s electricity generation in 2050 could come from CSP. This is especially true in the Middle East and North Africa, a region with abundant solar resources.

Despite the potential of CSP, relatively high technology costs, when compared to fossil fuel alternatives, deter utilities from investing. Concessional and public financing were key to lift this project off the ground. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy secured over $3 billion needed for the Noor-Ouarzazate complex from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), European financing institutions and the World Bank. A Saudi-led consortium, which includes ACWA Power, Aries and TSK, built the plant. (TSK is currently constructing of a 2x400 MW Combined Cycle Single Shaft Power Plant for Ashuganj Power Station Company Limited (APSCL), Bangladesh as well.)

Noor 1 plant uses 500,000 mirrors spread out over an area as large as 600 football (soccer) fields. When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

The plant is hoping to bring new local jobs, and can lead to a high-performing sustainable energy economic sector for Morocco.