In case you didn’t notice it yet: solar power is booming. Last week saw another milestone, with Morocco opening its Ouarzazate [wa-za-zat] concentrated solar power utility. Being the largest utility of its kind in the world, the town Ouarzazate — known from movies and TV shows like Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones— kicks off what could become a revolution in solar power. It’s the first step of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s dream to turn his country in a renewable energy hub.
In contrast with photovoltaic solar power technology, concentrated solar power (CSP) is less known. This is how it works. Big parabolic mirrors focus the sun’s rays onto tubes filled with a fluid that heats up and transports the heat towards a central hub where it creates steam to drive a turbine. That way the solar energy is used to generate electricity.
What is so particularly interesting about this technology is that it can be combined with temporary energy storage. During the day, part of the hot fluid is used to heat up molten salt stored in large tanks. Those stay warm hours after sunset to keep the turbine running during the evening. The technology is very promising for countries with a lot of sun hours — in fact so promising that the International Energy Agency estimates that by 2050 11% of world’s electricity will come from CSP.
The first phase that opened last Thursday provides 160 MegaWatts of what will become a total 580MW by 2018 when the construction will be finished. The 35 soccer fields big plant powers 650 thousand people and avoids 240 thousand tons of CO2 emissions every year, the equivalent of 80 000 cars.
It is the proof that Morocco takes its climate pledge in Paris in December last year very seriously. By 2020 it aims to get 42% of its electricity generation from renewables, by 2030 it wants to have its CO2 emissions 32% below the business-as-usual scenario. And of course they want to make a good impression, being the host of this year’s climate summit.
The project has its price tag of course. Nearly 4 billion US dollar has been invested, half of which comes from German investment bank KfW, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank. Climate Investment Funds (CIF) calculated that for every 1 GigaWatt additional solar power installed, electricity production costs could fall by 3%. “Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.” told a manager of CIF to the Guardian. Keep up the good work Morocco!