Vast Moroc­can so­lar power plant is hard act for Africa to fol­low

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

On the edge of the Sa­hara desert, Morocco is build­ing one of the world’s big­gest so­lar power plants in a project largely funded by the Euro­pean Union.

It is a hard suc­cess for other African na­tions to match as they seek to im­ple­ment a new global deal to com­bat cli­mate change. The huge 160-megawatt first phase of the Noor plant near the town of Ouarzazate con­trasts with ef­forts by some other na­tions fo­cused on tiny roof-top so­lar pan­els to bring power to re­mote ru­ral homes.

At Noor, curved mir­rors to­talling 1.5 mil­lion square me­ters the size of about 200 soc­cer pitches - cap­ture the sun’s heat in the red­dish desert.

Col­lab­o­rat­ing with al­most 200 na­tions

Morocco is show­cas­ing Noor be­fore talks among al­most 200 na­tions in Mar­rakesh about im­ple­ment­ing a global deal to com­bat cli­mate change that en­tered into force on Nov. 4 - a day when the Sa­ha­ran sky was un­usu­ally over­cast with spots of rain. “We hope we can be an in­spi­ra­tion,” Mustapha Bakkoury, head of the Moroc­can Agency for So­lar En­ergy (Masen), told Reuters. Many African na­tions are push­ing to boost eco­nomic growth to end poverty, while seek­ing greener en­er­gies.

The gleam­ing con­cen­trated so­lar power plant is not eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive with cheaper fos­sil fu­els, but is a step to de­velop new tech­nolo­gies as prices for so­lar power fall sharply. “Un­for­tu­nately for many, it’s thought that re­new­ables are to have a light bulb or light a school ... This is to get away from the car­i­ca­ture of re­new­ables,” Bakkoury said.

Morocco aims to get 52 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from clean en­ergy such as wind and so­lar by 2030, up from 28 per­cent now. Once com­pleted, Noor will cost 2.2 bil­lion eu­ros ($2.45 bil­lion) and gen­er­ate 580 MW, enough power for a city of al­most 2 mil­lion peo­ple. Morocco aims to ex­pand at other desert re­gions to 2 gi­gawatts of so­lar ca­pac­ity by 2020 at a cost of $9 bil­lion.

On the sprawl­ing site, south of the snow­capped At­las Moun­tains, work­ers clear ground with dig­gers, build con­crete pil­lars or clean off Sa­ha­ran dust that dims sun­shine. In Ara­bic, Noor means light. By con­trast in East Africa, M-KOPA So­lar has in­stalled 400,000 tiny rooftop so­lar panel sys­tems cost­ing $200 each on homes in the past five years to pro­vide power for light bulbs and a ra­dio. That com­pletely by-passes the grid.

M-KOPA Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jesse Moore, whose com­pany fo­cuses most on Kenya, Tan­za­nia and Uganda, said rooftop so­lar sys­tems were a break­through for Africa, where half the 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple lack elec­tric­ity.

He noted that Tesla founder Elon Musk was try­ing to sell so­lar sys­tems to US homes. “Elon Musk is try­ing to get peo­ple to leap off the grid in Cal­i­for­nia. Over here on the other side of the planet this is hap­pen­ing al­ready,” he told Reuters.

Un­like Morocco, some na­tions in Africa find it hard to at­tract in­vestors to green projects, part of global ef­forts to limit cli­mate change and more floods, heat waves and droughts that are a big threat to Africa. “Morocco is par­tic­u­larly suited for a largescale project. It may not be suit­able for all other coun­tries,” Ro­man Es­colano, vice pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank (EIB), told Reuters.

The Euro­pean Union in­clud­ing the EIB has funded about 60 per­cent of Noor. Masen is­sued Morocco’s first green bond, of 106 mil­lion eu­ros, on Fri­day to help fi­nance Noor. Apart from sun­shine, Morocco has had rel­a­tive po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in re­cent years and a pre­dictable le­gal and bank­ing sys­tem, help­ing it at­tract in­vestors.

Even so, Morocco has had a week of street protests af­ter the death of a fish­mon­ger, crushed to death in a garbage truck in a con­fronta­tion with po­lice, in one of the big­gest and long­est chal­lenges to au­thor­ity since the 2011 Arab Spring. — Reuters

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