Insights / World’s biggest solar plant opens in Morocco

World’s biggest solar plant opens in Morocco

25th November 2015

The world’s biggest solar thermal plant is being opened next month in the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate. The huge plant, which will cover the same area as the country’s capital, Rabat, is expected to bring renewable energy to 1 million locals for 20 hours a day.

World’s biggest solar plant opens in Morocco

The £6 billion project is part of a vision of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to turn his country into a renewable energy powerhouse. Currently, Morocco imports 94% of its energy as fossil fuels from resource-rich regions such as Spain, but such high import levels are costly, not to mention harmful to the environment. Consequently, Morocco has pledged to get 42% of its electricity from renewables by as soon as 2020. Conditional on aid from other countries to reach this ambitious target, Morocco has also pledged to decrease CO2 emissions 32% below business-as-usual by 2030.

The project has attracted $9 billion dollars in funding from large corporations such as the World Bank and Moroccan government guarantees have also been set up to back the project and its external funding. King Mohammed VI has established energy subsidies so that the great cost of becoming a global solar superpower isn’t transferred to Moroccan citizens.

The plant covers an area of 35 football fields of 0.5 million crescent-shaped, movable mirrors which track the sun throughout the day. The rays from the blazing desert sun melt salt which is able to hold its heat to power a steam turbine well into the evening. This is a huge advantage compared to other solar power technologies which, for obvious reasons, aren’t able to produce energy once the sun goes down.

Subsequent phases of the project, launching in 2017, will expand on this technology, eventually storing energy for up to eight hours so that Morocco and even neighbouring nations will be able to run 24/7 on solar energy.

The plant’s ability to store heat energy will not only give Morocco a chance to free itself from imported electricity, but it will also see the tables turned soon, with Europe likely to be buying renewable energy from Morocco in the coming decades. Due to Saharan countries abundant sunshine, it’s predicted that solar panels covering just 0.3 per cent of the Sahara’s surface could power the whole of Europe, and Morocco is looking to capitalise on this as humanity’s need for renewable energy increases.

Paddy Padmanathan of Saudi-owned ACWA Power, which is running the thermal project, 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… all it needs to do is just sit there because Europe will start to need it.”