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We visit a vast power plant at the door to the Moroccan desert that is helping to dene the energy future of
the world.

BySandrineCeurstemont
29November2016

Theminibuscrossesthevastplateauonanewlypavedroad.CrackedfieldsstretchawaytowardstheMoroccandeserttothesouth.Yetthe
barrenlandscapeisnolongerquiteasdesolateasitoncewas.Thisyearitbecamehometooneoftheworldsbiggestsolarpowerplants.

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Hundredsofcurvedmirrors,eachasbigasabus,arerankedinrowscovering1,400,000sqm
(15msqft)ofdesert,anareathesizeof200footballfields.Themassivecomplexsitsonasun
blastedsiteatthefootoftheHighAtlasmountains,10km(6miles)fromOuarzazateacity
nicknamedthedoortothedesert.Witharound330daysofsunshineayear,itsanideallocation.
Aswellasmeetingdomesticneeds,MoroccohopesonedaytoexportsolarenergytoEurope.This
isaplantthatcouldhelpdefineAfrica'sandtheworldsenergyfuture.

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http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161129thecolossalafricansolarfarmthatcouldpowereurope

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BBCFutureThecolossalAfricansolarfarmthatcouldpowerEurope

findingoutaboutthechangesthat
matter.

Hundredsofcurvedmirrors,eachasbigasabus,arerankedinrowscovering1,400,000squaremetresofdesert,anareathesizeof200footballfields.
(Credit:GettyImages)

Ofcourse,onthedayIvisittheskyiscoveredinclouds.Noelectricitywillbeproducedtoday,saysRachidBayedattheMoroccanAgency
forSolarEnergy(Masen),whichisresponsibleforimplementingtheflagshipproject.
Anoccasionaloffdayisnotaconcern,however.Aftermanyyearsoffalsestarts,solarpoweriscomingofageascountriesinthesun
finallyembracetheirmostabundantsourceofcleanenergy.TheMoroccansiteisoneofseveralacrossAfricaandsimilarplantsarebeing
builtintheMiddleEastinJordan,DubaiandSaudiArabia.Thefallingcostofsolarpowerhasmadeitaviablealternativetooileveninthe
mostoilrichpartsoftheworld.

"
Aswellasmeetingdomesticneeds,MoroccohopesonedaytoexportsolarenergytoEurope.
Noor1,thefirstphaseoftheMoroccanplant,hasalreadysurpassedexpectationsintermsoftheamountofenergyithasproduced.Itisan
encouragingresultinlinewithMoroccosgoaltoreduceitsfossilfuelbillbyfocusingonrenewableswhilestillmeetinggrowingenergyneeds
thatareincreasingbyabout7%peryear.Moroccosstablegovernmentandeconomyhashelpeditsecurefunding:theEuropeanUnion
contributed60%ofthecostfortheOuarzazateproject,forexample.

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Witharound330daysofsunshineayear,Ouarzazateacitynicknamedthedoortothedesertisanideallocation.(Credit:SandrineCeurstemont)

Thecountryplanstogenerate14%ofitsenergyfromsolarby2020andbyaddingotherrenewablesourceslikewindandwaterintothemix,
itisaimingtoproduce52%ofitsownenergyby2030.ThisputsMoroccomoreorlessinlinewithcountriesliketheUK,whichwantsto
generate30%ofitselectricityfromrenewablesbytheendofthedecade,andtheUS,wherePresidentObamasetatargetof20%by2030.
(Trumphasthreatenedtodumprenewables,buthisactionsmaynothaveahugeimpact.Manypoliciesarecontrolledbyindividualstates
andbigcompanieshavealreadystartedtoswitchtocleanerandcheaperalternatives.)
DuetothelacksunonthedayIvisit,thehundredsofmirrorsstandstillandsilent.Theteamkeepsacloseeyeonweatherforecaststo
predictoutputforthefollowingday,allowingothersourcesofenergytotakeoverwhenitisovercast.

"
Thereflectorscanbeheardastheymovetogethertofollowthesunlikeagiantfieldof
sunflowers
ButnormallythereflectorscanbeheardastheymovetogethertofollowtheSunlikeagiantfieldofsunflowers.ThemirrorsfocustheSuns
energyontoasyntheticoilthatflowsthroughanetworkofpipes.Reachingtemperaturesupto350C(662F),thehotoilisusedtoproduce
highpressurewatervapourthatdrivesaturbinepoweredgenerator.Itsthesameclassicprocessusedwithfossilfuels,exceptthatweare
usingtheSunsheatasthesource,saysBayed.
Theplantkeepsgeneratingenergyaftersunset,whenelectricitydemandspeak.Someofthedaysenergyisstoredinreservoirsofsuperhot
moltensaltsmadeofsodiumandpotassiumnitrates,whichkeepsproductiongoingforuptothreehours.Inthenextphaseoftheplant,
productionwillcontinueforuptoeighthoursaftersunset.

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BBCFutureThecolossalAfricansolarfarmthatcouldpowerEurope

Oncefullyoperational,thesolarplantwillonlyrequireabout50to100employees.(Credit:SandrineCeurstemont)

AswellasboostingMoroccospowerproduction,theOuarzazateprojectishelpingthelocaleconomy.Around2,000workerswerehired
duringtheinitialtwoyearsofconstruction,manyofthemMoroccan.Roadsbuilttoprovideaccesstotheplanthavealsoconnectednearby
villages,helpingchildrengettoschool.Waterbroughtinforthesitehasbeenpipedbeyondthecomplex,hookingup33villagestothewater
grid.

"
Waterbroughtinforthesitehasbeenpipedbeyondthecomplex,hookingup33villagesto
thewatergrid
Masenhasalsohelpedfarmersintheareabyteachingthemsustainablepractices.Headingtowardsthemountains,IvisittheBerbervillage
ofAsseghmou,30miles(48kilometres)northofOuarzazate,whereasmallfarmhasnowchangedthewayitraisesewes.Mostfarmers
hererelyontheirintuitionalonebuttheyarebeingintroducedtomorereliabletechniquessuchassimplyseparatinganimalsintheirpens
whichareimprovingyields.Masenalsoprovided25farmswithsheepforbreedingpurposes.Inowhavebetterfoodsecurity,saysChaoui,
whorunsalocalfarm.Andhisalmondtreeisthrivingthankstocultivationtips.
Evenso,somelocalshaveconcerns.Abdellatif,wholivesinthecityofZagoraabout75miles(120kilometres)furthersouth,wherethereare
highratesofunemployment,thinksthattheplantshouldfocusoncreatingpermanentjobs.Hehasfriendswhowerehiredtoworktherebut
theywereonlyoncontractforafewmonths.Oncefullyoperational,thestationwillonlyrequireabout50to100employeessothejobboom
mayend.Thecomponentsoftheplantaremanufacturedabroadbutitwouldbebettertoproducethemlocallytogenerateongoingworkfor
residents,hesays.

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ThesolarplantdrawsamassiveamountofwaterfromthelocalElMansourEddahbidam.Waterscarcityhasbeenaprobleminthesemidesertregion.
(Credit:SandrineCeurstemont)

AbiggerissueisthatthesolarplantdrawsamassiveamountofwaterforcleaningandcoolingfromthelocalElMansourEddahbidam.In
recentyears,waterscarcityhasbeenaprobleminthesemidesertregionandtherearewatercuts.Agriculturallandfurthersouthinthe
Draavalleydependsonwaterfromthedam,whichisoccasionallyreleasedintotheotherwisedryriver.ButMustaphaSellam,thesite
manager,claimsthatthewaterusedbythecomplexamountsto0.5%ofthedamssupply,whichisnegligiblecomparedtoitscapacity.
Still,theplantsconsumptionisenoughtomakeadifferencetostrugglingfarmers.Sotheplantismakingimprovementstoreducethe
amountofwaterituses.Insteadofrelyingonwatertocleanthemirrors,pressurisedairisused.AndwhereasNoor1useswatertocoolthe
steamproducedbythegenerators,sothatitcanbeturnedbackintowaterandreusedtoproducemoreelectricity,adrycoolingsystemthat
usesairwillbeinstalled.

"
ThesuccessofplantsinplaceslikeMoroccoandSouthAfricawillencourageotherAfrican
countriestoturntosolarpower
Thesenewsectionsoftheplantarecurrentlybeingbuilt.Noor2willbesimilartothefirstphase,butNoor3willexperimentwithadifferent
design.InsteadofranksofmirrorsitwillcaptureandstoretheSunsenergywithasinglelargetower,whichisthoughttobemoreefficient.
Seventhousandflatmirrorssurroundingthetowerwillalltrackandreflectthesunsraystowardsareceiveratthetop,requiringmuchless
spacethanexistingarrangementofmirrors.Moltensaltsfillingtheinteriorofthetowerwillcaptureandstoreheatdirectly,doingawaywith
theneedforhotoil.
SimilarsystemsarealreadyusedinSouthAfrica,SpainandafewsitesintheUS,suchasCaliforniasMojavedesertandNevada.Butat
86ft(26m)tall,Ouarzazatesrecentlyerectedstructureisthehighestofitskindintheworld.

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Africassunshinecouldeventuallymakethecontinentasupplierofenergytotherestoftheworld.(Credit:GettyImages)

OtherplantsinMoroccoarealreadyunderway.Nextyearconstructionwillbeginattwositesinthesouthwest,nearLaayouneandBoujdour,
withplantsnearTataandMidelttofollow.
ThesuccessoftheseplantsinMoroccoandthoseinSouthAfricamayencourageotherAfricancountriestoturntosolarpower.South
Africaisalreadyoneoftheworldstop10producersofsolarpowerandRwandaishometoeastAfricasfirstsolarplant,whichopenedin
2014.LargeplantsarebeingplannedforGhanaandUganda.
Africassunshinecouldeventuallymakethecontinentasupplierofenergytotherestoftheworld.SellamhashighhopesforNoor.Our
maingoalistobecomeenergyindependentbutifonedayweareproducingasurpluswecouldsupplyothercountriestoo,hesays.
ImaginerechargingyourelectriccarinBerlinwithelectricityproducedinMorocco.
WiththecloudssettoliftinOuarzazate,Africaisbusyplanningforasunnyday.

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