In the Arabic-speaking world, a significant number of newborns are named Noor, a popular unisex name meaning ‘bright’ or ‘light’. Following the trend, Morocco’s government has decided to use the name Noor for one of its most ambitious projects: a 580 MW concentrated solar power plant located on the Moroccan side of the Sahara desert. The solar facility, consisting of 500,000 solar mirrors aligned in 800 rows and tracking the sun’s movement, will be the world’s largest solar power plant constructed so far. The electricity produced from Noor will be enough to power a million houses, reducing the country’s carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year.
Currently, Morocco has marginal production of oil, natural gas, and refined petroleum products that are mostly consumed locally. Nonetheless, the amount of energy needed is far higher, forcing Morocco to import a significant number of hydrocarbons to meet the country’s demand. Considering these figures, Morocco has decided to reduce its dependency on fuel imports by developing local renewable projects. So far, the country plans to use hydro, wind, and solar energy to cover 42% of the country’s electricity by 2020, which is a reasonably ambitious goal considering that renewables represented only 4% of Morocco’s power generation in 2011.
Besides incrementing its local energy production, Morocco has also planned to expand its transmission lines to cover its entire territory and, possibly, international land. As a first step, Morocco is planning to export energy to the neighboring countries of Mauritania and Tunisia, but the ultimate goal remains the export of energy to Europe. Nonetheless, Morocco still has to sort out several challenges to attain its international ambitions, such as the lack of interconnectors to transmit energy between Spain and France. In this regard, Maha el-Kadiri, spokeswoman from the Moroccan Solar Energy Agency (Masen) says, “Specifically, we would like to build interconnections, which would not go through the existing one in Spain, and then start exporting.”
So far, Morocco has just finished the first stage of the project, known as Noor I, and has plans to complete the second and third stages by 2017. The fourth and last phase of the project still needs to be allocated. Noor I, inaugurated in February 2015, has an effective capacity of 16 0MW and occupies 480 hectares. The project has received financing from the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the African Development Bank, as well as private investors. The first phase had a total cost of approximately US$894 million while the whole project is estimated to cost US$9 billion to complete.
Concentrating the sun’s power
Power plants that utilize concentrated solar power technology work similarly to regular steam power plants; the only difference is that steam is produced using solar energy instead of coal or fuel oil. While photovoltaic panels directly transform the sun’s irradiance into electricity, solar concentrators utilize the sun’s thermal energy to transform water into steam. Afterward, the steam produced is sent to a regular steam-based turbine to generate electricity. One of the advantages of using concentrated solar power technology is that heat can be stored for a certain number of hours using molten salts, which provides flexibility to the plant and allows planning of production to meet higher demand times.
The technology used for Noor utilizes this innovative concentrated solar power design. The entire plant’s layout consists of half a million parabolic mirrors with a 12-meter diameter that beam sunlight onto a pipe, running through which is a synthetic thermal oil solution, known as heat transfer fluid. The heat transfer fluid is then pumped to a heat exchanger where it releases heat to produce steam, or to a heat storage tank where molten salts are used to store the harnessed thermal energy. Noor I has the capacity to store enough energy for up to three hours, but once phases two are three are completed, the solar complex will be able to maintain production 24-hours.
To learn more about the concentrated solar power technology used in Noor, we recommend this article from The Guardian: