Morocco Turns on Massive Solar Power Plant in the Sahara Desert

morocco-opens-solar-plant-sahara

Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It’s capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants.

When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation’s long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.

The plant is similar to large-scale plants located in the Mohave Desert in the U.S. Solar thermal power plants capture the sun’s energy as heat, then convert water into steam and turn turbines. As NASA explained last month:

“The system at Ouarzazate uses 12-meter-tall [39-foot-tall] parabolic mirrors to focus energy onto a fluid-filled pipeline,” NASA’s Kathryn Hansen wrote. “The pipeline’s hot fluid — 393 degrees Celsius (739 degrees Fahrenheit) — is the heat source used to warm the water and make steam. The plant doesn’t stop delivering energy at nighttime or when clouds obscure the sun; heat from the fluid can be stored in a tank of molten salts.”

(Why was NASA chiming in? Well, because the power plant is large enough that — even with only one stage completed — it’s visible from space.)

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SOURCE: NPR, Camila Domonoske