Ouarzazate Solar Complex

Morocco is building the world's largest solar energy park in Ouarzazate

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The Moroccan city of Ouarzazate is used to blockbusters. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed there, and more recently some moments of Game of Thrones were shot there. But today, "The Gate of the Desert" as it is nicknamed is not going to play with the stars, but with the sun. The Moroccan kingdom has decided to install the world's largest solar energy park there. Launched this month.
 
Ahe first floor of this ambitious project, Noor1, is due to be inaugurated in November. It is a solar thermal power plant using Concentrated Solar Energy (CSE) technology. In contrast to relatively expensive photovoltaic panels, which are mainly dependent on the hours of sunshine, the ESC guarantees a constant and massive production.
 
500,000 twelve-metre high parabolic mirrors, permanently facing the sun and arranged in rows of 800, will be used to concentrate a large area of the sun's rays on a small surface. The light concentrated into heat then produces electric current which in turn drives a heat engine connected to an electric current generator.
 
Just a few minutes of desert sunshine is enough to provide energy for a year's worth of needs for all mankind.
 
This technology has been known for decades, but it was after the Chernobyl accident that it received more attention. Some, like the German physicist Gerhard Knies, calculated as early as 1986 that the sunlight in all the world's deserts receives in a few minutes more than enough energy to supply the entire planet in a year.
 
Each parabolic mirror is centred on a steel pipe carrying a heat transfer fluid (HTF) heated to 393°C which winds along a chute before reaching an internal combustion engine. It is mixed with water to create steam that turns the turbines.
The HTF consists of a solution of synthetic thermal oil pumped to a heat reservoir containing molten sand, which can store heat for up to three hours, allowing the plant to power homes overnight. The mirrors are spaced in level formations to minimize damage caused by sand brought in by desert winds.
 
Each parabolic mirror is 12 metres high. Photo: Graeme Robertson
 
Technicians believe that the Noor 2 and 3 plants, due to open in 2017, will be able to store energy for up to eight hours, opening up the prospect of 24/7 solar power in the Sahara and the surrounding region.
 
A new clean energy era
 
When all four phases of the Noor project are completed, the solar park will be the size of a city like Rabat and will provide 580 MW of electricity to supply more than one million homes. The first phase Noor 1 alone will produce 160 MW.
 
Moroccan Environment Minister Hakima el-Haite, interviewed by The Guardian believes that this new and perfectly ecological energy opens up a new era and could have an impact in the 21st century comparable in the region to that of oil production in the last century.
Morocco hopes to meet half of its energy needs with electricity from its new Sahara solar power plant and other renewable energy plants by 2020. According to current plans, solar power is expected to account for a third of the country's renewables, with hydropower and wind power accounting for the other two-thirds. The country had even expressed hopes of exporting electricity to Europe.
 
This project required a budget of EUR 8.1 billion. A sum largely borrowed from international institutions such as the European Investment Bank and the World Bank.
 
At the time of COP 21, a good example of an alternative, effective solution to leave fossil fuels where they are: at the bottom of the earth.
 
Photo: Modelled aerial view of the solar complex of Ouarzazate - Source: MASEN
 

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