• Solar thermal plant operational with capacity of 160 megawatts
  • Whole project expected to be complete by 2020, Masen says

The first phase of North Africa’s largest solar-power complex was connected to the grid in Morocco, with a generating capacity of 160 megawatts.

The solar thermal plant in the Ouarzazate province is the first unit of the Noor project to be completed. It uses parabolic troughs to focus the sun’s energy on heating a fluid that in turn powers a generation turbine.

The plant cost 800 million euros ($894 million), according to the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, which is known as Masen. Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power International and Spanish firms Sener SA and Acciona SA were the developers.

Noor, meaning “light” in Arabic, is expected to have a combined capacity of 2 gigawatts by 2020 after all the units are complete. The complex will cost about $9 billion and will be spread over at least four locations in Morocco, a Masen spokesman said.

The project is financed by a group of development banks, including the French Development Agency, the European Investment Bank and Germany’s KfW, which each contributed 100 million euros. The World Bank and the Clean Technology Fund both provided 150 million euros, and the African Development Bank another 168 million euros.

The European Union and Germany’s environment ministry also funded the project with 30 million euros and 15 million euros, respectively.

“The real test will be in the operation over the next five to 25 years,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noting that solar thermal is more technologically risky than photovoltaic panels. “If it is not highly technically successful, more of the solar thermal pipeline in the Middle East and North Africa region is likely to be switched to PV.”

Morocco is the only country in North Africa without fossil-fuel reserves and imports over 90 percent of its energy. It has set a target to generate more than half of its power from renewables by 2030.

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