A collective solution for renewable energy generation – this in a nutshell defines the Noor Solar Project, which is under construction on the fringe of the picturesque Saharan city of Ouarzazate (south of the High Atlas Mountains, in Morocco). Envisioned as the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, the humongous facility will also integrate hydro and wind energy systems, thus accounting for the ‘collective’ side of affairs. Considering such an ambitious scope, suffice it to say, the $9 billion plant will be installed in different phases (four – to be exact); with entire project being predicted to generate a handsome 580 MW of peak power when it’s finished by 2020. This will equate to powering over a million homes, and pertains to almost half the renewable energy requirements in Morocco.
In terms of working scope, Concentrated Solar Power is NOT actually related to conventional photovoltaic solar cells. Instead it uses a large number of mirrors that focus (and thus concentrate) the incoming sun-rays into a smaller zone. Simply put, this leads to the accumulation of heat – which in turn is ideal for boiling water. This setup can be further used to generate steam that would power the turbines for producing thermal electricity. So, in a sense, the resultant thermal electricity is indirectly sourced from the renewable ‘prowess’ of sun.
As for the Noor Solar Project in question here, the first phase aptly christened as Noor 1, will entail a dedicated Concentrated Solar Power setup. About to make its debut by next month, the facility covers a whopping 6,178 acres of land, and consists of 500,000 crescent-shaped solar mirrors that are neatly arranged along 800 rows. The engineers expect this gargantuan setup to produce up to 160 MW of electricity at its peak.
Of course, beyond just size, it is the technology that ultimately matters in the output scope. To that end, each of these 12 m (or 40 ft) high mirrors are arranged in a ‘strategic’ way so as to mitigate the direct impact of sandstorms. Furthermore, they are oriented in a specific manner (and aided by automatic tracking) by which they can reflect maximum magnitude of the incoming sun-rays throughout the day. These reflected rays in turn are absorbed by a steer pipeline that carries an efficient heat-transfer solution comprising a synthetic thermal oil blend.
The special oil blend has the fascinating capacity to be heated up to 393 degrees Celsius (by concentrated sunlight), and this heated solution is then pumped to a heat tank consisting of molten sand. Essentially, the tank will have the ability to store the resultant heat for around 3 hours after the sun goes down, thus allowing for effective generation of thermal electricity for most part of a day. What’s more, the engineers are looking forth to storing the concentrated heat for 8 continuous hours after Noor 2 and 3 facilities are completed – which would unprecedentedly account for ‘clean’ electricity production from solar energy even during the night.
Now, in spite of what may seem as over-aspiring plans, the Noor Solar Project has the potential to practically solve many of Morocco’s energy-related issues. As Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite, said (in an interview conducted by The Guardian) –
We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget. We also used to subsidize fossil fuels which have a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought; why not?
And interestingly, the grander plans hatched by Morocco’s environmental think-tank doesn’t only limit themselves to the native country. El-Haite also made it clear that if successful, the burgeoning renewable energy systems and their outputs can be exported to other countries in the neighboring North African regions and even Middle East. Symbolically, it seems, the Moroccan monarch’s ultimate wish concerning this sustainable field pertains to the provision of renewable power to Mecca – the holiest city in Islam.