Will Morocco Solar Farm Soon Power Europe?
For centuries, Morocco has inspired travelers with its vitality and gripping history. From dazzling coastlines to the breathtaking Sahara, the Kingdom of Morocco huddles a remarkable variety of adventures into its corner of North Africa. Now, Morocco will inspire the future generation with its world’s biggest solar power plants, which will be set up in the world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara. In the near future, Morocco desires to export solar energy to Europe.
In Morroco, energy needs increase yearly by about 7 percent. While still meeting the growing needs, Morocco wants to focus on the renewable energy thereby reducing the fossil fuel usage. By 2020, the country plans to generate 14 percent of its energy through Solar power. However, by 2030, with the aid from other renewable resources such as wind and water, the country plans to triple (52 percent) its energy production.
Solar energy is slowly booming to be a major renewable energy source. Solar's hidden energy potential and affiliated benefits are vast. In June, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that Solar power generation could rise from 2 percent to 13 percent by 2030.
The project is run by ACWA Power Ouarzazate, an association of ACWA Power, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), Aries and TSK. In addition, the project is being developed on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis. However, the solar complex will be operated and maintained by a consortium led by NOMAC, a subsidiary of ACWA Power, and Masen. Due to Morocco’s stable government and economy, a secure funding is established. Especially, the European Union contributed 60 percent of the cost.
[ Image Source: MASEN ]
About the Project:
The enormous multiplex is located at the tip of high-rise Atlas Mountains. That's only 6 miles (10 km) away from Ouarzazate, a city which acts as a passage to the desert with almost year-round sunshine. The 1,400,000-sq. m. (15m SQ. FT.) area of the desert is covered with hundreds of curved mirrors lined up in different rows.
During the first phase of the project, a 160MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant called Noor I was constructed. In August 2013, the phase 1 foundation was laid and it was officially commissioned in February 2016. Noor 1 has successfully exceeded the expectations in energy production.
The phase two, which starts in 2017, involves the construction of two power plants namely - Noor II, 200MW CSP Plant and Noor III, 150 MW CSP Plant. While in the third phase, which starts in 2018, the construction of the Noor IV CSP plant will begin. In 2017, construction will begin at two sites in the southwest, near Laayoune and Boujdour, followed by plants near Tata and Midelt.
However, weather forecast plays a major role in the power production. The team opts for various other sources of energy when the Sun is under cover. On a sunny day, the giant mirrors focus the Sun’s energy onto a synthetic oil which flows in a matrix of pipes. When the temperature reaches 350C (662F), the hot oil is used to produce high-pressure water vapor which drives a turbine-powered generator. In addition, when there is a high demand for electricity the plant keeps generating energy even after sunset. “It’s the same classic process used with fossil fuels, except that we are using the Sun’s heat as the source,” says Rachid Bayed at Masen.
Noor 2 will be similar to phase 1. However, Noor III will have design experiments such as - the Sun’s energy will be captured and stored in a more efficient single large tower. 7000 flat mirrors will surround the tower, which tracks and reflect the sun’s rays towards a receiver at the top. This requires much less space than existing mirror arrangement. Instead of heating oil, the interior of the tower would be filled with molten salts which will capture and store heat directly.
Ouarzazate 225/60 KV station located near the complex will impart the output generated by the plant. Masen has entered two separate power purchase agreements (PPAs) to off-take the entire output from Phases One and Two.
However, a backdrop with the solar power plant is that it draws a massive amount of water for cleaning and cooling, from the local El Mansour Eddahbi dam. With water scarcity in the recent years, followed by occasional water cuts, there is a shortage of water for agricultural land. But the Site Manager, Mustapha Sellam, claims that the 0.5 percent of the dam’s water was used by the complex, which is negligible compared to its capacity. In addition, the plant is making improvements on reducing the water usage. The improvisations include pressurized air is used to clean the mirrors instead of water; a dry cooling system would be installed for Noor II, Noor III, while Noor I used water to cool Steam, which was later converted into electricity.
[ Image courtesy of MASEN ]
Not only does the project boost power production but also the local economy in Morocco. For the construction, around 2,000 local temporary workers were hired. However, the fully operational station will only require about 50 to 100 employees, all thanks to the solar plants! To make it accessible, roads were built which connected nearby villages. This helped school-going children. The water has been channeled beyond the plant connecting 33 villages.
Similar plants are being built in the regions of Middle East - Jordan, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The success of these plants in Morocco and other construction plants may encourage other African countries to turn to solar power.
In December 2016, the prestigious award “Champions of the Earth”, by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in the category “Entrepreneurial Vision,” was presented to the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN). Established by UNEP in 2004, this award recognizes outstanding environmental leaders, (whether individuals or organizations), who are an epitome of inspiration, vision, innovation, leadership and action for the environment. Masen was awarded for its commitment to advancing solar power, making cost-effective solar energy and innovative approaches to their green financing.
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