This week, Morocco switched on the first section of its new Ouarzazate solar power plant. The new installation already creates 160 megawatts of power and is expected to grow to cover 6000 acres by 2018 — making it the largest in the world.
The first wave of power production is known as Noor 1. Situated in the Sahara Desert, its crescent-shaped solar mirrors follow the sun to soak up sunlight all day long. The mirrors, each of which is 12m tall, focus light onto a steel pipeline that carries a synthetic thermal oil solution. The oil in those pipes can reach 400C, and that's what's used to create electricity: The heat is used to create steam which drives turbines. The hot oil can be stored to create energy overnight, too.
Noor 1 will be joined over time by Noor 2 and 3 which are expected to be finished by 2018. When those sections come online, the whole plant will cover an areas of over 6000 acres, which is larger than the country's capital city of Rabat. With the extra mirrors in place, the plant will generate 580 megawatts of electricity — enough to provide energy for 1.1 million people.
But, as our own George Dvorsky has pointed out, that wasn't always to be the case. The initial plan was to deliver the generated electricity to Europe but several partners pulled out. Interventions by the African Development Bank and the Moroccan government saved the project, though, and are now using it to meet Morocco's own power demands. As of today, it will do just that.
All images by AP