Numerous industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources. Morocco and other less developed/industrialized nations like South Africa, Ghana and Kenya have also turned to solar to reduce dependence on expensive imported fuels.
Morocco, considered the largest energy importer in the Middle East, imports 97% of its energy from foreign sources.
Aurthur Neslen in the Guardian articulated the testaments of Hakima el-Haite, Morocco’s environment minister as thus
“We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has a big consequences for our state budget. We also used to subsidize fossil fuels which has a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought; why not?”
Yes, why not? True, at the sight of this news, one should be bewildered by the fact that if a country like Morocco still relies hugely on foreign sources for energy, when it has great potential for thermal energy, wind, solar and even hydro energy.
The question then is: is Morocco not aware of the potential for solar power from the desert? What happens to the likes of Mali, Mauritania, Uganda or Tanzania, to mention a few?
That said, it should also be recalled that studies have shown that the distribution of solar resources across Africa is fairly uniform, with more than 85% of the continents landscape receiving at least 2,000 kWh/ (m² year), meaning that virtually all countries across Africa has the potential of developing and exploring solar energy, irrespective of their proximity to desert regions.
Leen Aghabi in Global Risk Insights declared that “Morocco will soon be known as solar giant with its world largest concentrated solar power plant, providing electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans by 2018.” Also the World bank in November 2015, published a feature story on its website, it was titled “Morocco to Make History with First-of-its-kind Solar Plant.” Milena Veselinovic took the same notion up when she wrote a narrative titled “Morocco is set to build world’s largest concentrated solar power plant” in Edition.CNN.Com. It looks like Morocco is set to rock the world.
Overtime much emphasis has been laid on lessening the dependence on fossil fuels, and transitioning to a low carbon development strategy. Interestingly, Morocco has danced to the tune of that call when it set out on the 10th of May, 2013 to develop the World’s largest concentrated solar power plant, powered by the Sahara sun. The idea is to provide almost half of the country’s energy by 2020.
The three-plant Noor-Ouarzazate (city located in southern-central Morocco) Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) is proposed to achieve over 500 megawatts (MW) installed capacity, ultimately supplying power to 1.1 million Moroccans by 2018. It is also expected to reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year which could mean a reduction of 17.5 million tons of carbon emissions over 25 years (The World bank.)
The combination of CSP with thermal storage allows, thanks to its capability, to provide reliable power even when the Sun disappears, because the mirror technology it uses is less widespread and more expensive than the photovoltaic panels commonly used.
To add to that, the science behind its functioning is simple; first, hundreds of mirrors are laid bare in order to focus the sun’s energy. This enable the mirrors to heat a transfer fluid that is used to produce steam that drives turbines that generate electricity. The transfer fluid can be used to heat molten salts stored in large storage tanks on site. The salt stays hot enough to generate steam even after the sun has gone down.
The size of the project and the mirror technology required a whopping $9billion investment which was provided by the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and other international institutions. In Aurthur Neslen’s reportage in the Guardian, Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite, believes that solar energy could have the same impact on the region this century that oil production had in the last, but the $9bn (£6bn) project to make her country’s deserts boom was triggered by more immediate concerns.
The first phase, called Noor 1, will go live next month, and it is expected to generate 160 megawatts of electricity. However, the Noor 1 only has the ability to store solar energy for three hours after the sun sets. When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital City of Rabat and generate 580Mw of electricity, enough to power a million homes. By then, Morocco will put the world to a standstill because of the endless benefits accrued from the project, which boasts of great economic benefits for the country and its citizens.
Experts have also said that the energy project will provide employment and will help ease Morocco’s huge reliance on fossil fuels and energy imports. In years to come, Morocco will be transformed from an energy-importing to an energy-exporting country.
It is important to note that more projects using CSP are currently under construction, while some are still in their planning stages across the world. Typical examples are that of Chile, South Africa, China and India.
Even when all the others are completed, Morocco may yet be the main energy provider in North Africa.