Morocco’s massive solar plant unveiled in the Sahara desert

Desert, Souss-Massa-Draa area, Marocco

On the 4th of February, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, was leading the opening ceremony of the first plant of the Ouarzazate solar complex, the Noor I concentrating solar power (CSP) project. Half a million parabolic mirrors are heating a liquid, which will, with the steam produced, activate power turbines and create energy. For an estimated cost of two billion dollars, Noor I has a capacity of 160 MW. To draw a comparison, a nuclear reactor produces 860 MW on average, and a coal-fired power station can be above 1000 MW.

Still, Noor I is the first step of a three phases project to build a solar complex with a 580 MW capacity. When completed in 2018, it will be the world’s largest solar plant and will provide electricity for 1,1 million people. The King of Morocco officially launched the construction of the second and third plants, Noor II and Noor III.

As the demand for electricity almost tripled since 1999, Morocco became dependent upon 97% of its electricity consumption. To address this challenge the country has chosen the renewables pathway. It has made a breakthrough with regard to the commitments adopted by north African countries to reach the goal of 42% of energy consumption coming from renewable energies by 2020. It will moreover help Morocco to save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Ahead of the COP21 in Paris, the country delivered it’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), assuming a 32% reduction of emissions by 2030 compared to “business as usual” projected emissions.

The power station can also be seen as a concrete evidence of the growing amount of international financial investments in clean energy projects. The major part of the $3.9 billion invested in the Ouarzazate solar complex have been supported by development banks: $1bn from the German KfW development bank, $596m from the European Investment Bank and $400m from the World Bank. International networks are still great investors, as the Climate Investment Funds provided $435m for the hole project.

Opportunities to exploit the energy received by the Sahara Desert are plenty, as well as the potential for investors in renewable energies. As the Guardian noticed, in 1986, the German particle physicist Gerhard Knies drowned the conclusion that “in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year”.

(Image: Desert, Souss-Massa-Draa, Ouarzazate area, Marocco. Photo credit:mauro gambini/Flickr).