Tired of importing almost all its energy, Morocco has built Africa’s biggest solar farm

Sun seekers.
Sun seekers.
Image: Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar
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Germany has caught plenty of flack for installing solar power on a large scale—critics say the country simply isn’t sunny enough to benefit from the infrastructure it has enthusiastically built. No one could level that accusation at Morocco, however; which is one of the reasons why a massive solar project at the edge of the Sahara Desert is so significant. It’ll be the largest solar scheme so far on a continent that has massive potential to produce both domestic and exportable energy from the sun.

The first phase of the Noor-Ourzazate Solar Complex—called Noor I—is due to reach completion in the next few weeks. It will generate up to 160 megawatts, with the entire complex generating upwards of 500 megawatts by the time it’s finished in 2020. It will take up an area the size of Rabat, Morocco’s capital, according to the Guardian journalist who visited the plant.

The plant will use a technology called concentrated solar power, rather than photovoltaic panels which have become common elsewhere, such as in Europe. The technology works by using mirror configurations to focus the sun’s energy, heating a fluid which eventually produces steam to drive a generator.

The complex, which will cost $9 billion, the Guardian said, could eventually export energy to Spain via Africa’s only interconnecting cable with Europe. It’ll also make a big dent in Morocco’s problematic reliance on imported fossil fuels. The country currently imports 97% of its energy.

Noor-Ourzazate is but one example of how Africa is ramping up its renewable energy resources. A large solar scheme is planned in Ghana, and a huge wind project is under way in Kenya. The African Development Bank, which backed Morocco’s current scheme, and a smaller one completed in 2010, lists Etheopia, Mali, and Chad as three countries on which it is funding domestic energy production.

A previous plan to harness the Sahara’s sunshine collapsed, deemed too expensive and labeled as “utopian.” But the completion of the Moroccan project’s first phase will likely support development of future projects, and possibly the export of solar-generated power to the Middle East and Europe—who knows, maybe even to Germany.