A Moroccan power plant is about to go live that will transform the country into an energy producing behemoth.
Near the city of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, this complex of four, linked solar mega-plants will produce 580MW of electricity and power a million homes by focusing parabolic mirrors onto a heating solution. By heating steel piping with concentrated, reflected sunlight, they will heat the "heat transfer solution" within to 393 degrees Celsius as it passes into a heat engine. Here, it will mix with water and create steam used to power generators.
The heat energy is stored in heat tanks containing molten sand. In the first plant of the four to open, called Noor 1, the sand can store heat for three hours after the sun goes down. When the second and third plants go live in 2017, they expect that the tanks can hold heat for eight hours. It is this heat that allows them to continue producing electricity after the sun goes down.
“We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget,” said Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite. “We also used to subsidise fossil fuels which have a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought; why not?”
By 2020, solar energy will make up 1/3 of Morocco's renewable energy supply. The other two thirds will be split evenly between wind and hydroelectric power.
Morocco plans to export excess electricity as it continues to expand its solar dominance. The amount of heat that lands in the world's deserts in a couple hours can power the earth for a year if properly harnessed and Morocco plans to continue its expansion and export. “We believe that it’s possible to export energy to Europe but first we would have to build the interconnectors which don’t yet exist,” said Maha el-Kadiri, a Moroccan solar energy agency spokeswoman. “Specifically, we would have to build interconnections, which would not go through the existing one in Spain, and then start exporting.”
The Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, has used his influence and guarantees to receive $9 billion in investments from international institutions such as the European Investment Bank and World Bank, and so the consumers will not have to pay for the construction and maintenance.
Construction on Noor 1 is expected to be complete at the end of 2015.