World’s Largest Solar Plant Goes Live, Could Revolutionize Fight Against Climate Change

If there is anywhere in the world that solar power technology could deliver unprecedented amounts of renewable energy, it’s sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara Desert sees an average of less than 2.5 centimeters of rain annually, has an average temperature of 86°F, and reaches 122°F in the warmest months. But until February 4, no one had taken on the task of proving the extent of the solar energy value of this harsh climate. Moroccan King Mohammed VI is seeking to change all that.

A massive solar farm in southern Morocco called the Noor complex recently initiated phase one of a project that will bring renewable energy to more than a million people. The fields of glistening solar collectors, lined up like rows of wheat in the American breadbasket, covers around 1,000 acres, with 500,000 solar mirrors lined up into 800 rows — and that’s just the first of three sections. It’s so large that it can be seen from space.

These aren’t your average solar panels you would see on the top of someone’s roof. The Noor complex uses what is called concentrated solar power, which uses curved mirrors to direct rays of sunlight into a central location. The collected thermal energy heats a liquid, which generates steam and drives a turbine, thereby creating electricity.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, one megawatt of solar energy, on average, can power about 164 homes. Now, the first phase at Noor generates up to 160 megawatts of power. When the entire project is completed in 2018, it is expected to generate more than 500 megawatts, enough to provide power for an estimated 1.1 million people — making it far and away the largest concentrated solar plant in the world. But at around 24 billion dirhams (around $6.5 billion), it won’t come cheap.

However, Morocco pledged during the December 2015 Paris climate talks to get 42 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The country currently gets 97 percent of its energy from imported fossil fuels, but if all goes according to plan, the natural sun may prove to be their most valuable resource. According to a Climate Investment Funds’ estimate: “The plant will reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year, which could result in an estimated reduction of over 17.5 million tons of carbon emissions over 25 years.”

For more on the awe-inspiring Sahara, check out its surreal Richat Structure. Then, discover more on the future of energy with India and Denmark’s renewable energy initiatives and the company making beer-powered cars.

Nickolaus Hines
Nickolaus Hines is a freelance writer in New York City. He graduated from Auburn University, and his recent bylines can be found at Men's Journal, Inverse, and Grape Collective.
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