Morocco will open the first phase of what will be the world’s largest solar farm at Ouarzazate later this month. It is part of Morocco’s pledge to source 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Morocco has received praise from the UN for its ambition. The UK, by comparison, has a target of 30% of its energy from CleanTech by 2020 (1).
The project involves installing a complex of four linked solar plants, which will occupy a space as large as Morocco’s capital, Rabat, and will produce 500 MW of electricity – enough to power one million homes (2).
Morocco is currently the largest energy importer in the Middle East, and depends on imports for more than 97% of its energy. Harnessing energy from its plentiful sunshine will free Morocco from volatile import costs, and create the potential for green energy exports to neighbouring countries (3).
The complex will use a technology called Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), which is more expensive to install than the widely used photovoltaic panels, but is able to store energy for nights and cloudy days. The process uses mirrors to focus the sun’s light and heat up a liquid, which is mixed with water and reaches a temperature close to 400°C. This produces steam, which in turn drives a turbine to generate electrical power (4).
There is enormous potential for solar power generation from the desert. In 1986, the German particle physicist Gerhard Knies calculated that the world’s deserts receive enough energy in a few hours to provide for humanity’s power needs for a whole year. The difficulty has been capturing the energy and transporting it to the global population centres where it’s needed (5).