First Phase of City-Sized Saharan Solar Farm Is Now Complete

The first phase of one of the world’s largest solar farms is now generating power in Morocco, as the country aims to derive 52% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. Morocco is looking to become a leader in solar energy in Africa, and the timing couldn’t be better: Morocco will host the next UN climate change conference later this year.

The completed Noor I grid, the first of three, generates 160 megawatts of power from the sun near the town of Ouarzazate. It’s located at the edge of the Sahara, where the planet receives 3,000 hours of sunlight per year. The first installation of the project is comprised of 500,000 curved mirrors, each about 40 feet tall, that turn to follow the sun as it moves through the sky. The curved mirrors direct and concentrate sunlight towards a long pipe of heat transferring fluid. The sunlight heats the fluid to 393 degrees Celsius (739 degrees Fahrenheit), which is then transported a short distance and used to heat a nearby water source. The heated water in turn creates steam that’s used to spin turbines that generate electricity. The heat energy will be stored in molten salt for access once the sun has gone down. The Noor I can store energy for three hours, but the Noor II and Noor III installations will be able to store energy for up to eight hours.

The solar plant, slated to be completed by 2018, will become the world’s largest concentrated solar plant, and the largest solar installation in Africa. It will generate 580 megawatts of power and cover 6,000 acres with mirrors, making it about the same size as Morocco’s capital city Rabat — in fact the solar plant is so big it’s already visible from space. The finished plant will also include a photovoltaic solar installation, referred to as Noor IV.

The Noor I installation can now power 650,000 residences from sunrise to three hours after sunset. The completed plant will be able to provide electricity to 1.1 million homes for 20 hours per day, and Morocco could even be in the position to export some of that solar energy to other countries. Morocco currently imports 97% of its energy from other countries, which officials said was a major driver for building the ambitious solar plant.

Costs for the total project are estimated to reach $9 billion. Investments in the project from sources such as KfW, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have reached $3.9 billion to date.

See this NASA blog post.
Feature image courtesy NASA.

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