Morocco: First phase of world’s largest solar farm now in operation

Kasbah Tifoultoute near Ouarzazate, Morocco. Creative Commons: Kurpfalzbilder.de, 2009.

Kasbah Tifoultoute near Ouarzazate, Morocco. Creative Commons: Kurpfalzbilder.de, 2009.

Morocco’s king has switched on the first phase of what is set to become the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, providing electricity for 1.1 million people.

Situated on the edge of the Saharan desert, the power station will be the size of Morocco’s capital city when completed in 2018.

At 2pm local time on Thursday, King Mohammed VI switched on Noor 1, the first stage of the power plant located at the town of Ouarzazate, followed by laying the foundations for Noor 2, the next stage.

Noor 1 had been due to open in December but was delayed by unspecified “agenda concerns,” according to Maha el-Kadiri, spokeswoman for Masen, Morocco’s renewable energy agency.

It provides 160 MW of the ultimate 580MW capacity, which will, once in operation, help Morocco save around 760,000 tons of carbon emissions every year.

Noor 1 will provide electricity to 650 000 locals, from dawn until three hours after sunset.

Mafalda Duarte, the manager of Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which provided $435 million of the $9 billion project’s funding, said:

It is a very, very significant project in Africa. Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.

According to Climate Investment Funds (CIF), the costs of CSP are still relatively high and demonstration projects are limited, which often deters investors.

However, the Ouarzazate solar project reflects CSP’s increasing reputation as a promising technology.

Around $3.9 billion have been invested in the project so far, including $1 billion from the German investment bank KfW, $596 million from the European Investment Bank and $400 million from the World Bank.

The International Energy Agency estimates that up to 11% of the world’s electricity generation in 2050 could come from CSP, especially from power stations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Morocco plans to generate 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020, with one third coming from solar, wind and hydropower.

The north African country will also host the next UN climate conference in November. It is hoping to use this as the springboard for an even more ambitious plan to source 52% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

The country’s energy minister, Abdelkader Amara, said at a meeting during the Paris climate summit:

Between now and [the next conference], many projects will have come to light and we will prove that we can match our energy demands with renewables.

Such a move would lead to further cost reductions of solar energy. CIF estimates that if international banks and governments deployed another 5GW of solar energy, electricity production costs could fall by 14%. Scaling that up to 15GW would cut costs by 44%.

If the architects’ plans are realised fully, the produced energy will eventually be exported north to Europe, and eastwards to Mecca, as well as making Morocco significantly less dependent on energy imports.

Duarte said:

Morocco knew their demand for electricity was growing at 7% a year and that they were dependent on imports for 97% of that energy. They had a vision to promote renewables at a time when oil prices were high and they undertook regulatory reforms, put institutions in place, and they have done a great job.

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