Morocco is a name usually associated with exotic getaways and clothing, but by 2018, it will also be knowns as a super power, almost literally. By that time, its sprawling solar power plant complex will be in full operation to provide electricity for as much as 1.1 million people. But while that dream is still two years away, the country has already started the important first step in that journey, turning on the switch for Noor 1, the first of three sections that together will make up the world’s largest solar plant.
Solar power, of course, requires the sun and very few areas in the world are so sun-bathed than the Sahara Desert. So no surprise then that Morocco chose it to be the site of its largest technological endeavor to date. The power plant actually almost had a tragic ending, when European partners withdrew pulled out from the project. They may come to regret that decision in a few years, but, at least for now, the plant will be used to power Morocco’s own electricity needs.
Unlike conventional solar power plants, the one in the city of Ouarzazate doesn’t make use of solar panels. Instead, it uses crescent-shaped mirrors, almost like a nod to the country’s predominant culture. These mirrors focus sunlight on steel pipes behind the mirrors, which, in turn, heat up the oil inside. This oil, which reaches up to 740℉ is used to create steam to power the turbines that generate electricity.
Noor 1, at this stage, already generates 160 megawatts of power. The entire complex, however, sprawls 6,000 acres, with 500,000 such mirrors. By the time those are all functional, the plant would be able to produce 580 megawatts of electricity. Whether new foreign partners decide to get involved isn’t known yet. For now, Morocco is keeping everything in-house.