Vast desert sun farm to help light up Morocco

December 13, 2015 by Jalal Al Makhfi
Solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power plant, outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate
Solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power plant, outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate

On the edge of the Sahara desert, engineers make final checks to a sea of metal mirrors turned towards the sun, preparing for the launch of Morocco's first solar power plant.

The ambitious project is part of the North African country's goal of boosting its clean output with what it says will eventually be the world's largest solar power production facility.

Morocco has scarce oil and gas reserves, and is the biggest importer of energy in the Middle East and North Africa.

The plant is part of a vision to move beyond this heavy dependency and raise renewable energy production to 42 percent of its total power needs by 2020.

About 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Ouarzazate, half a million U-shaped mirrors—called "parabolic troughs"—stretch out in 800 rows, slowly following the sun as it moves across the sky.

Spread over an area equivalent to more than 600 football pitches, they store thermal energy from the sun's rays and use it to activate steam turbines that produce electricity.

King Mohamed VI launched construction of the plant, called Noor 1, in 2013, at a cost of 600 million euros ($660 million) and involving roughly 1,000 workers.

Its start of operations by the end of this month was set to coincide with the conclusion of high-stakes COP21 global climate talks in Paris.

"Construction work has finished," said Obaid Amran, a board member of Morocco's solar power agency.

"We are testing components of the production units with a view to connecting them to the national grid at the end of the year."

Morocco is boosting its clean energy output with what it says will eventually be the world's largest solar power production facility

The project's next phases—Noor 2 and Noor 3—are to follow in 2016 and 2017, and a call for tenders is open for Noor 4.

'A million homes'

Once all phases are complete, Noor will be "the largest solar power production facility in the world", its developers say, covering an area of 30 square kilometres (11.6 square miles).

It will generate 580 megawatts and provide electricity to a million homes.

The solar power project will also help reduce the country's .

The energy ministry estimates that its first plant will allow the country to reduce CO2 emissions by 240,000 tonnes per year initially, and by 522,000 tonnes with the second two phases.

That is equivalent to nearly one percent of Morocco's CO2 emissions of around 56.5 million tonnes in 2011, according to World Bank figures.

The so-called "greenhouse effect" is a natural phenomenon—an invisible blanket of gases including small amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2)—that has made Earth warm enough for humans to survive on it comfortably.

King Mohamed VI launched construction of the solar plant, called Noor 1, in 2013, at a cost of 600 million euros ($660 million)
King Mohamed VI launched construction of the solar plant, called Noor 1, in 2013, at a cost of 600 million euros ($660 million) and involving roughly 1,000 workers

But human activities such as burning coal and oil inject additional CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to global warming.

Humanity's annual output of greenhouse gases is higher than ever, totalling just under 53 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2014, according to the UN.

Morocco, to host next year's COP22, aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030 as it develops .

"We have a project to introduce 6,000 megawatts to the existing electricity production nationwide," Energy Minister Abdelkader Amara said recently.

"Two thousand megawatts will come from solar energy and 2,000 megawatts from wind and hydroelectric power."

Morocco started producing electricity at Africa's largest wind farm in its southwestern coastal region of Tarfaya last year.

"Things have been going well so far," the minister said. "We're likely to go beyond 2,000 megawatts by 2020 in the area of wind power."

But Rabat has not abandoned fossil fuels altogether—last December, Amara announced a multi-billion-dollar project to step up Morocco's search for natural gas to produce electricity.

Explore further: Morocco sees 12% of power from sun by 2020

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21 comments

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Lord_jag
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 13, 2015
Solar power that doesn't stop producing at night. Awesome.

Take that solar deniers.
24volts
5 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2015
Solar power that doesn't stop producing at night. Awesome.

Take that solar deniers.


While i'm for all the alternate energy sources we can get I didn't see anything in that article about having the storage capability to generate at night. I hope they can too though.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Dec 14, 2015
Is Willie going to complain about the acres of desert covered by these reflectors?

Let's send him to the Tar Sands of Canada, or the Hanford Reservation for Nuclear Waste.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Dec 14, 2015
I didn't see anything in that article about having the storage capability to generate at night

According to this site:
http://www.digita...morocco/
A specialized heat tank loaded with molten sands means the Noor 1 array will be able to store heat energy for up to three hours. For obvious reasons, solar cells can't produce energy once the sun goes down, so the plant's heat tank was built into the plan so that Moroccan homes will be able to source renewable energy into the evening hours. Subsequent phases of the project will expand on the technology laid down in Noor 1, eventually storing energy for up to eight hours so that Morocco and even neighboring nations will be able to run 24/7 on solar energy.
WillieWard
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 14, 2015
about the acres of desert covered by these reflectors
Nuclear power is much more energy dense, smallest footprint, lowest ecological impact per unit of energy generated.
"Nuclear power can be done safely, and with a relatively small environmental footprint"
http://www.indepe...236.html
http://thebreakth...otprints
http://www.indepe...?id=8539
gkam
2 / 5 (8) Dec 14, 2015
" . . smallest footprint, lowest ecological impact per unit of energy generated"
-------------------------------------------------

. . excluding Chernobyl and the land around Fukushima, and many other contaminated places in the US, Great Britain, and the old USSR, all contaminated essentially forever in Human terms.
WillieWard
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 14, 2015
excluding Chernobyl and the land around Fukushima
"No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation — a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming years is expected to be so low as to be undetectable"
http://journal.av...over-it/
"Fewer than 50 people were reported to have died at Chernobyl; by contrast, the American Lung Association estimates that smoke from coal-fired power plants kills about 13,000 people every year,"
http://www.techin...-2015-11
"Critics often point to the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union as an even more terrifying warning against nuclear power, but that accident was a direct result of both a faulty design and the operators' incompetence."
http://www.nytime...eed.html
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
and many other contaminated places in the US, Great Britain, and the old USSR, all contaminated essentially forever in Human terms.


The vast majority of the contaminated places are not due to nuclear power, but due to nuclear weapons production and testing. Essentially, places like Hanford or Lake Karachay are due to weapons plutonium production, and such wastes actually represent 75% of all the man-made nuclear waste in the world.

Civilian reactors for power production are an absolute minor source of contamination AND nuclear waste even after you include Chernobyl and Fukushima.

More nuclear material - waste as it is - is being dumped on the ground and piled up into mountains by rare-earth metals production because the mine tailings for neodymium, indium, gallium etc. are rich in uranium and thorium, and there's literally hundreds of thousands of tons of the stuff.

Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
For example:

https://en.wikipe...rth_mine

The Mountain Pass rare earth mine is an open-pit mine of rare earth elements (REEs) on the south flank of the Clark Mountain Range, just north of the unincorporated community of Mountain Pass, California

In 1998, chemical processing at the mine was stopped after a series of wastewater leaks. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water carrying radioactive waste spilled into and around Ivanpah Dry Lake.

A federal investigation later found that some 60 spills—some unreported—occurred between 1984 and 1998, when the pipeline was shut down. In all, about 600,000 gallons of radioactive and other hazardous waste flowed onto the desert floor


Nothing to do with nuclear power whatsoever. This is a mine that produces among other things neodymium for magnets, for e.g. wind turbines.

gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 15, 2015
"Civilian reactors for power production are an absolute minor source of contamination AND nuclear waste even after you include Chernobyl and Fukushima."
-----------------------------------------

Nonsense. We have thousands of tons of the stuff, and it can still kill you. Because it is exothermic, it presents many problems with required cooling, thermal plumes in storage, and toxicity problems, as well.

As for the materials used in alternative energy, mining contamination must be avoided, no matter the value of the element desired.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 15, 2015
Eikka is correct in that we have much more deadly waste from nuclear weapons production, but we need not add to it with civilian nuclear waste. We cannot safely store the stuff we have now.
WillieWard
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2015
and it can still kill you. Because it is exothermic..
Oops! Solar panels are exothermic too.
Solar power causes warming by trapping the sunlight as heat. Solar panel reflects little sunlight. It only converts 20% of the sunlight into electricity; the other 80% is mostly absorbed and re-emitted as infra-red a kind of radiation.
http://greenfalla...bad.html
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Dec 15, 2015
Are solar panels as hot as the three million-degree Neutron from radioactive decay of Plutonium?
Eikka
5 / 5 (5) Dec 15, 2015
Nonsense. We have thousands of tons of the stuff, and it can still kill you.


No. You are talking nonsense. In reality there is more nuclear waste being produced by every other industry than the nuclear power industry, and it's not being dealt with because it's dispersed in such a greate volume of waste material that it cannot effectively be dealt with.

In terms of radioactive waste, nuclear power is ironically cleaner than almost anything else because the waste is concentrated and CAN be dealt with.

You're also deliberately conflating high and low level wastes and pretending all waste from nuclear power is high level, when in reality only a small part is.
We cannot safely store the stuff we have now


Yes we can. You're simply placing impossible and hypocritical standards on what it means to safely store nuclear waste. In reality, existing disposal sites like WIPP are perfectly adequate for safe disposal unless you deliberately go poking your nose in it.
WillieWard
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2015
Are solar panels as hot as the three million-degree..
Temperature and heat are distinct concepts. Solar farms, large areas, more enormous quantities of rooftop solar panels, a lot of heat going to atmosphere, exothermic heat, contributing to global warming.
https://en.wikipe...perature
http://greenfalla...bad.html
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
The hypocricy is that ordinary rock gives you between 1-13 mSv radiation dose per year with an average of 2 mSv overall, whereas the exposure limits for the public from man-made sources is 1 mSv per year up to 5 mSv for temporary exposure.

That means the nuclear waste from the power industry can be less radioactive than the house you're currently living in - especially if you live in a stone or concrete building - but it's still considered nuclear waste and has to be dealt with accordingly.

This greatly inflates the numbers of how much nuclear waste is actually being produced - especially if you conflate high and low level waste for propaganda as gkam does.

If we were to obey the offical limits, we should be abandoning much of the surface of the earth for being too radioactive to be safe - but the rules only apply to the nuclear industry, not anyone else - so we don't.

gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 15, 2015
Okay, . . go live near Hanford.
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
Okay, . . go live near Hanford.


Why would I?

That's like saying, okay, go live inside a wind turbine. No you won't, because it's not nice there.

And Hanford STILL has nothing to do with nuclear power, because it's a weapons plutonium production facility.
Mark Thomas
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2015
Solar thermal concentrators in Morocco are great, but require a huge physical plant. Wind power is great, as long as the wind blows and you don't mind having all the turbines around. Fracking is fantastic and keeps my car and economy running, but it is far from consequence free. Nuclear may be our best option today to cut down on greenhouse gases and all the naysayers here had better get used to hard choices. Looking at our limited options, it is not hard to infer we could really use a working fusion power plant right now, but one is probably decades away. I hope the good folks at ITER realize how critically important their work is and not just post feel-good marketing splash on their website (iter.org) for the uneducated masses. If we could afford one Manhattan Project today, my vote would be for fusion.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2015
The nuclear power industry has in the past 40 years made about 75,000 tons of spent fuel, which is a pile that would cover a football field. This is not actual high level waste.

About 3-4% of the pile, or roughly 3000 tons of material which is mixed in the spent fuel, is the actual high level waste and the rest is recyclable fuel.

Most of the 75,000 tons of spent fuel is currently sitting encased in concrete silos next to the nuclear power stations - called dry cask storage - waiting for the governments to pull their heads out of their asses and make it possible to recycle the fuel and bury the rest.

Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2015
The difference is, the high level waste has high activity, and will burn up of its own in a matter of decades to a couple thousand years. It will be gone by the next ice age, transmuted to less harmful elements - mostly lead.

The medium level waste which is the spent, unprocessed and non-recycled fuel, is the problem because the high level waste portion is continuously throwing neutrons at the unburned fuel, causing chain reactions and basically running the reaction at a low level for millions of years, generating more and more high level waste within the spent fuel.

So, if we simply bury a fuel rod as it comes out of a reactor - after cooling it down for a number of years - it's going to stay highly radioactive for a long long time and create a problem for future generations.

But if we recycle the fuel and bury only the high level waste, there's going to be much less of it to bury, and it's not going to remain dangerous for long enough to matter.

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