Opening of Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant in Morocco

by Isaiah Boone

Computer World posted an article detailing the completion and opening of the largest solar power plant in the world in Morocco. The solar power plant will supply 1.1 million people with clean energy and will reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tons annually. The name of the plant is the Noor Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant and it is located in the Souss-Massa-Draa area in Morocco, close to 6 miles outside of Ouarzazate. The Noor CSP plant cost over $9 billion to build and began operation on Thursday, February 4th.

CSP plants use technology different than that used in solar panels as they do not use photovoltaic solar power to generate energy. Rather CSP plants use lenses or curved mirrors to focus sunlight into a small area. Water or another substance is placed into this area and is heated by the focused sunlight. The heated substance is then used to create steam which turns a turbine to generate electricity. The Noor CSP concentrates the sunlight on molten salt, during the process the salt is heated between 300 and 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant currently produces close to 160 Megawatts of electricity. Thermal solar power is more expensive than its photovoltaic counterpart, however thermal solar power is potentially more useful. The system doesn’t stop producing energy due to factors such as time of day or how clear the sky is. Heat obtained from earlier in the day can be stored as molten salt and used for later consumption. The current Noor CSP produces electricity for 3 hours after nightfall and once the additional phases have been completed, the plant will produce electricity for 20 hours a day. The Noor CSP plant system is made up of 12-meter-tall parabolic mirrors which direct the sunlight onto a fluid-filled pipeline that heats water to turn turbines.

Though funds from The World Bank and a number of various supporters were used to build the plant, the Moroccan government completely owns the plant. World Bank Country Director for Maghreb, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, described the impact that the solar power plant will have on Morocco, especially in regards to energy independence and job creation. Morocco depends on imported resources for 97% of its current energy consumption and this plant will go a long way in increasing energy security for the country. [] The Moroccan government plans to add additional phases to the plant as well. Once Phase 2, which consists of 2 additional plants opening in 2017 and 2018, is completed, the plants will be able to produce over 500 Megawatts and will cover 6,178 acres. These plants together will be the largest solar power plant in the world. By the time the final plant is built in 2018, solar power station capacity will have risen from 22 Megawatts in 2013 to 522 Megawatts. The energy output from this plant will be able to support the energy needs of 1.1 million Moroccans and possibly be outsourced to European countries as well. These plants together will foster the creation of 1,600 jobs during construction and 200 jobs to operate the plants.

The International Energy Agency estimates that up to 11% of the world’s electricity generation 2050 could be generated from CSP plants and that the carbon emissions will reduce by 17.5 million tons over the next 25 years. Morocco has a goal to use renewable resources for 42% of its energy by 2020 and it will interesting to see the projects that follow Noor CSP. []







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