The current winner in the renewable energy push has to be the country of Morocco, which is building a solar energy plant that will leave every other effort in the dust. Or maybe we should say, in the dark.
Right now, Morocco imports 94 to 97 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, yet it gets 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. All of that desert sunshine is about to reverse the energy-importing trend, turning the country into a leading world source of solar energy.
Morocco is in the process of building a complex of four linked solar mega-plants as big as 35 soccer fields. According to a story from the Guardian, the huge effort will, alongside with hydro and wind, “help provide nearly half of Morocco’s electricity from renewables by 2020.” It’s hoping to export any excess solar energy to other countries, especially those in Europe.
“The project is a key plank in Morocco’s ambitions to use its untapped deserts to become a global solar superpower,” the Guardian story says. It will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world.
The first phase of the project, called Noor 1, is due to open this month and will bring energy to 1.1 million people. The method of capturing solar energy, as described by EcoWatch, is more expensive and goes a lot further than most solar technology, such as photovoltaic cells. “The plant employs a large number of movable mirrors that can follow the sun’s path and harness sunlight to melt salt,” the EcoWatch story says. “The molten salt stores energy and can be used to power a steam turbine, allowing for energy production even at night.”
Each parabolic mirror is 12 meters high and is focused on a steel pipeline carrying a “heat transfer solution,” or HTF, that is warmed to 393 degrees Celsius. That solution “snakes along the trough before coiling into a heat engine,” the Guardian story explains. “There, it is mixed with water to create steam that turns energy-generating turbines.”
The next phases of the project, projected to go live in 2017, will be able to store energy for eight hours.
According to The World Bank, the solar mega-plant will reduce Morocco’s energy dependence by about 2 1/2 million tons of oil and is expected to “reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year, which could mean a reduction of 17.5 million tons of carbon emissions over 25 years.” The World Bank is supporting the project with a $200 million loan. About $9 billion has been invested so far. Money is coming from a combination of investors like the Clean Technology Fund, the African Development Bank, European banks, and Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed VI.
At the recent United National Climate Change Conference in Paris, or COP21, participating countries delivered voluntary plans on how they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Morocco has an ambitious renewable energy generation target of 42 percent by 2020, while the U.S. target is 20 percent by the same year.
Looks like Morocco has set a standard that’s going to be hard to match.