Harnessing Solar Power in Morocco
The Kingdom of Morocco lies in the northwestern corner of Africa. A desire for the country to become less energy-dependent and more dedicated to the preservation of the environment brought on rapid progress in renewable energy. Drawing attention from energy and environmental communities alike, Morocco has an ambitious goal to reach 42 percent renewable energy by 2020. Making use of its most abundant natural resource, the sun, has greatly helped the country stay on track to meet this goal. The success of solar power in Morocco allowed the country to reach 35 percent renewable energy as of July 2019.
The Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Complex
Sitting near the southeastern Moroccan city of Ouarzazate is a solar energy complex. The Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Complex is a massive, more than 6,000-acre facility (roughly the size of San Francisco) that produces enough energy to power the country’s capital Marrakesh twice over. Additionally, the solar plant brings a new level of ingenuity to solar power in Morocco. A traditional solar plant faces the problem of supplying consistent power when the sun is not out. Batteries that temporarily store power are expensive and the environmental impacts are questionable.
In contrast, the Noor CSP Complex can supply constant power 24/7 to the 2 million people who draw power from it. Rather than using photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity, the plant utilizes two million sun-tracking mirrors that reflect light to a receiver at the top of the 800-foot tower in the center of them all. The receiver has a mix of liquid salts that superheats and stays hot for 7.5 hours, which is important since energy usage spikes in the evening after the sun sets. The stored heat then superheats water tanks that create steam and turn turbines to generate electricity. The energy then flows out to the public, much like any other electricity but furthers energy independence of the country.
What Does This Mean for Poverty?
People have long thought of adequate access to electricity as one of the fundamental aspects of development. The World Bank goes as far as to say that electricity is “at the heart of development.” In Morocco, much of the population has access to electricity due to the affordability of its energy sector. The recent drive to invest in renewable energy caused the price of electricity to drop significantly. Additionally, renewable energy assures Morocco’s rural population that their source of energy is affordable. According to Mohammed Jamil al-Ramahi, the CEO of Masdar (the company that received the contract for the Noor CSP Complex), “It is now cheaper to build renewable energy power plants than those based on fossil fuels.”
Not only is renewable energy cheaper by itself, but since Morocco started investing in domestic power generation, it can bring electricity to its citizens without worrying about the price of importing oil, coal and electricity from other countries. This also allows for greater energy security and gives Morocco a better stance on the international stage. In addition, the devotion to renewable energy and solar power in Morocco has shown the world that it is dedicated to the U.N.’s seventh Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Morocco is not only helping its poorest people and paving the way for greater rural development, but it is also doing so in a remarkably sustainable way that is largely unprecedented on an international scale.
– Graham Gordon