Morocco leads the Middle East on renewable energy

Morocco is pioneering renewable investment in the region with CSP-type solar power plants like the Saudi-built Noor 1

The Noor 1 CSP plant involves an array of 12m-high parabolic mirrors.
The Noor 1 CSP plant involves an array of 12m-high parabolic mirrors.

Morocco has become the standard bearer on the global stage for the Middle East region in terms of its renewable energy capacity, thanks to the scale of its concentrated solar power (CSP) projects.

In its 2016 report of the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Morocco led the world in 2015 in terms of investment and added capacity in concentrated solar power (CSP).

In terms of overall capacity at the end of 2015, the country still stood behind Spain, the United States and India, but its ongoing investment could soon push it up the rankings.

In particular, February 2016 saw Morocco inaugurate the Noor 1 CSP plant – the largest such plant in the Middle East and North Africa and indeed the continent – built by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power.

ACWA Power, together with 5% Spanish partners ARIES and TSC, was awarded a $1bn contract to build the 160MW CSP plant near the desert frontier town of Ouarzazate, Morocco back in 2012.

The Saudi energy company fended off bids from three other groups, including Abu Dhabi’s national energy company TAQA, by offering operational energy price 27% lower than the nearest bidder.

In the Noor 1 CSP plant, an array of 12m-high parabolic mirrors are focussed on a steel pipeline carrying a ‘heat transfer solution’ (HTF) that is warmed to 393°C then mixed with water to create steam that turns energy-generating turbines.

The HTF is made up of a synthetic thermal oil solution that is also pumped towards a heat tank containing molten salts that can store heat energy for three hours, allowing the plant to power homes into the night.

The Noor 1 project was supported by $1bn in funding from The World Bank, together with the African Development Bank and Climate Investment Funds (CIF), who expect the sheer scale of the Noor project to lower the overall cost of CSP.

Two subsequent phases, Noor 2 and Noor 3, will see capacity at the site raised by 350MW to over 500MW, and lower the costs of CSP by 25% and 10%, respectively, according to the World Bank.

Through the use of super-heated salts, these subsequent phases will store energy for eight hours.

The Ouarzazate solar plant is the first of five plants that Morocco plans to build by 2020 in order to add 2GW in solar generation capacity, which would represent 38% of the country’s overall capacity.

Globally a total of $285.9bn was spent renewable power and fuels in 2015, in a record year for investment in the sector, according to REN21, that ended with renewables accounting for some 23.7% of the world’s electricity.

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