Noor I, the first phase of the world’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant, is about to become operational near the Moroccan town of Ouarzazate.
The 30 sq km scheme was built on a perfectly flat stretch of ground at the base of the Atlas mountains. It uses 500,000 parabolic mirrors to direct the sun’s energy at a container of salt, which is heated to about 400°C.
According to Moroccan government officials, it will start producing electricity in the next few weeks.
The Noor CSP scheme is part of Morocco’s plan to achieve more energy independence. The North African country depends on fossil fuel imports to generate over 97% of its energy, according to project funder, the World Bank.
The advantage of CSP is that the salt remains molten for three hours after the sun goes down, and so continues to drive the steam turbine and produce electricity.
Noor I will have a peak production of 160MW. It will be joined by Noor II and III in 2017. These larger plants will be able to produce energy for eight hours after sundown.
When finished, the Ouarzazate CSP plant will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity – enough to power a million homes.
Morocco wants to generate 42% of its power from renewable sources by 2020, with a third of that coming from solar power.
Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite, told newspaper The Guardian last month that solar energy could have the same impact on the region that oil had in the last century.
Work on the scheme was announced in 2013 when funding was secured from a variety of sources, including German development bank KfW, which supplied $700m, and the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.
The scheme is being developed by ACWA Power Ouarzazate, a subsidiary of a Saudi utility company together with Spanish engineers Aries IngenierÃa y Sistemas and TSK ElectrÃ³nica y Electricidad. TSK, along with two other Spanish engineers, Acciona and Sener, is acting as the EPC contractor for the scheme.
Morocco already hosts the Turfaya wind farm which, with 131 turbines, is the largest on the continent.
Photograph: Workers prepare the Noor I facility to begin operations (World Bank)