World’s largest solar farm to open this week, giving power to millions of Moroccans

World’s largest solar farm to open this week, giving power to millions of Moroccans

Unlike many countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco has limited fossil fuels reserves. Combined with a relatively modest economy, the limited Moroccan resources are a big reason why the country has been making a major push to embrace renewable energy sources. In fact, the country is set to bring online what is

Unlike many countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco has limited fossil fuels reserves.

Combined with a relatively modest economy, the limited Moroccan resources are a big reason why the country has been making a major push to embrace renewable energy sources. In fact, the country is set to bring online what is expected to be the world’s largest solar power facility this week.

The power plant is designed to use the sun’s rays to melt salt, which will then be used to power steam turbines at night. The initial phase of the plant is scheduled to generate power for three hours per night, and after that, the plant will generate power for 20 hours a day.

“Whether you are an engineer or not, any passer-by is simply stunned by it,” Paddy Padmanathan, of Saudi-owned plant operator ACWA Power, told BBC News. “You have 35 soccer fields of huge parabolic mirrors pointed to the sky which are moveable so they will track the sun throughout the day.”

Located about 12 miles outside the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate, the plant has half a million U-shaped mirrors—or “parabolic troughs”—set in 800 rows slowly tracking the sun as it moves across the sky. Construction of the plant, called Noor 1, was started at the behest of Morocco’s King Mohamed VI in 2013. The construction cost around $600 million and involved 1,000 workers.

Just in time for climate talks
The startup of the plant comes just as international climate talks in Paris appear to have reached an agreement on lowering carbon emissions and embracing renewable energy sources.

Morocco is set to hold the next round of climate talks, COP22, in 2016, and the country is planning to lower its greenhouse gas output by 32 percent by 2030 via renewable energy production.

“We have a project to introduce 6,000 megawatts to the existing electricity production nationwide,” Energy Minister Abdelkader Amara said in a recent announcement. “Two thousand megawatts will come from solar energy and 2,000 megawatts from wind and hydroelectric power.”

Currently, the North African country imports power from Spain, but Moroccan engineers told the BBC that will not last long.

“If Morocco is able to generate electricity at seven, eight cents per kilowatt – very possible – it will have thousands of megawatts excess,” Padmanathan said. “It’s obvious this country should be able to export into Europe and it will. And it will not need to do anything at all… it needs to do is just sit there because Europe will start to need it.”

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