Monthly Archives: July 2014

Morocco: Pioneering Solar

Airlight's giant solar collector, Ait Baha, Morocco.

Airlight’s giant solar collector, Ait Baha, Morocco.

In February 2013 I posed the question, where next for Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), as the Rajoy government did its best to decimate the Spanish solar industry. In that blog I mentioned a list of countries that might take a leadership role in the deployment of this technology.

In that list I mentioned Morocco. Morocco has abundant renewable energy potential and it currently imports about 97% of its energy requirements and has growing energy demand: developing renewables is the obvious way to go. The Moroccan solar agency MASAN was founded in 2009 with ambitious plans. By 2011 an interesting hybrid gas and CSP power station at Ain Beni Mathar in eastern Morocco was operating, with a 20MW solar input. Currently there are a number of really exciting projects unfolding in Morocco that suggest it could be the global leader in this new Cleantec Industrial Revolution.

The 160MW Noor 1 solar plant currently under construction at Ouarzazate will be Morocco’s first large scale solar power station, and with its molten salt heat storage system it will be capable of producing electricity after the sun has set. This project is the first major milestone in MASAN’s ambitious plan to have 2000MW of CSP in Morocco by 2020. Noor 2 and 3 will also be built near Ouarzazate. If Manchester can claim to be the first city of the last Industrial Revolution then historians might look to Ouarzazate as the first city of the Solar Revolution. Noor 1 is being developed principally by Spanish and Saudi Arabian companies, but many Moroccans are gaining useful skills and knowledge which will be further advanced as a whole raft of new research and development projects are being established. The Green Energy Park just announced for the central Moroccan town of Benguerir is just what is required to boost local technical expertise and to trial numerous solar and other renewable energy technologies at the pre commercial stage, before commercial scaling-up.

One example of relatively small scale but amazingly innovative technology currently being deployed in Morocco is Airlight Energy’s plant at Ait Baha in south-western Morocco. Airlight Energy is a pioneering Swiss company that has developed a huge concrete parabolic trough, instead of the usual smaller steel ones, which should increase the rigidity of the structure and so improve efficiency and also mean that local sand, gravel and cement can be used rather than imported and costly steel. The plant also uses pebbles rather than molten salt as a thermal storage medium. It feeds heat directly into an adjacent cement factory and this may be one of the very early uses of what could become a very important use of CSP, as a direct heat source for industrial processes rather than just a way of making electricity.

So it could well be argued that Morocco is right at the forefront of the Solar Revolution!


Ain Beni Mathar

Noor 1 at Ouarzazate

Moroccan R & D

Airlight Energy

And their Moroccan project

Global list of csp

Green gains in Leominster

Jenny Bartlett

Jenny Bartlett

Here in Herefordshire it feels like the political landscape is shifting in interesting and hopeful ways. On Thursday there were two by-elections for the County Council. In Ledbury Terry Widdows won the seat for It’s OUR County (IOC) and in Leominster Jenny Bartlett won for the Green Party. Both seats had previously been held by the Conservatives. Back in November at the last Herefordshire Council by-election the Tories again lost the seat to IOC. It’s OUR County is a locally focused political party. Jenny joins Felicity Norman as the Green Party’s second Herefordshire Councillor, and the two of them sit together with the It’s OUR County as a single grouping, so with It’s OUR County’s twelve members and the two greens this grouping now stands at fourteen. Having won the last three by-elections all from the Tories the tide of support seems strongly to be flowing in the direction of this It’s OUR County/ Green grouping, and strongly against the incumbent Conservatives.

Out of the 58 seats on the Council the Tories now only have 27, the IOC/Green group has 14, the Herefordshire Independents 14 and the Lib-Dems three, and both Labour and UKIP none. These IOC/Green gains mean that the Conservatives will now be ruling as a minority administration.

The situation in Leominster is particularly rewarding for the Green Party in that Jenny’s victory was quite emphatic in a crowded field: she got 384 votes to the Conservatives 222, Independents 198, UKIP’s 111 and Labour’s 99. Also on the same day there was an election to the Leominster Town Council which Jane Lacey won for the Greens with 726 votes to Labour’s 202.

In 2015 the whole of Herefordshire Council will face an election, and if this political tide continues might we see the IOC/Green group forming the next administration? That really would be an interesting new direction for the county! However things will be different next year. 7th May 2015 sees a general election, all parish and town councils in Herefordshire, plus the County Council all up for election on the same day, and the boundary changes will reduce Herefordshire’s Councillors down from 58 to 53. Anybody’s guess what that combination will throw up!

STOP PRESS I’ve just heard that IOC and the Greens will formally sit as two separate groups, but still continue to cooperate as they have done over recent months.

Hereford Times and Daily Mail

Tunisia: Hopeful signs

Ennahda politicaians

Ennahda politicaians

As the Arab Spring unfolded we watched and hoped that things would work out well. Three years on and the situation now in Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere is tragic. So it was particularly heartening this week to come across a couple of positive stories from Tunisia.

The first was in the Guardian Weekly. As this autumn’s parliamentary and presidential elections draw near there does seem to be an overarching desire for constructive peaceful compromise and consensus building. This includes from Ennahda, the very interesting moderate Islamist party, whose leader Rachid Ghannouchi has intriguingly said “Islam was almost kidnapped by terrorism; we plan to liberate it”. Democracy is still very young and fragile in Tunisia, and they need to slowly build trust and practical experience of working together, problem solving and creating new opportunities.

TuNur Ltd is a South-North Partnership founded in 2011 between London based Nur Energie and Tunisian investors TOP group and Glory Clean Energy. They have very exciting plans to build a massive 2 GW concentrating solar power project in Tunisia, utilizing solar power towers and air cooling technologies. This week the news is that Low Carbon, a renewable energy investment company, has made a substantial investment in Nur Energie. CSPToday state that the Tunisian mega-project should be up and running and exporting Saharan solar electricity through a new high-voltage direct-current cable to Italy and on into the rest of Europe and even on to the UK market by 2018. Imperial Collage in London has looked at the feasibility of this and suggests it is achievable, and even that there are no significant bottlenecks to prevent Saharan solar reaching the UK. The TuNur and Nur Energie websites have lots of information and video clips. Looks like a great project to me. By building local supply chains to make many of the components they intend to create a lot of local employment, the lack of which after all was one of the principle factors behind the Arab Spring and the ousting of Ben Ali.

I wish Nur Energie, TuNur and the people of Tunisia well. If they can manage this year’s elections and this large scale solar investment well it could really be a beacon of hope for North Africa and the Middle East. In February 2013 I lamented the Spanish Governments withdrawal of support for CSP and speculated on where might be the new epicentre of this emergent and exciting industry. If this TuNur project goes ahead it’ll put Tunisia ahead of the game!


Nur Energie

Guardian on Tunisian politics

USA at its best: Solar Roadways

Scott & Julie Brusaw, founders of Solar Roadways

The USA is such a bizarre mix of the good and the bad. The bad stuff we know about: extreme inequality, dysfunctional national politics, crazy gun laws and the death penalty to name just a few. Today I just want to mention a few of the better things.

Barack Obama’s announcement about cutting carbon emissions from power plants by 30% by 2030, although perhaps not enough and not soon enough, is still welcome news. He’s made a couple of good speeches lately linking it to air quality and human health issues, and attacking the head in the sand approach of climate change denial. He’s also using his executive authority to push through higher standards for the fuel efficiency of large trucks. Perhaps at last after decades of poor leadership from American Presidents things are beginning to change?

At the city level the USA seems less dysfunctional than at national level. One example of real city led leadership is San Francisco’s aim to achieve zero waste to landfill or incineration. If they achieve this goal it would be a global first for a comparable sized city.

However it is at the level of individuals and small groups of people achieving socially and or technologically innovative breakthroughs that the USA really excels. My current favourite example of this is Solar Roadways.

Scott and Julie Brusaw developed the idea of replacing asphalt with solar panels from a small workshop in Idaho. They designed a sufficiently strong glass surface with great traction capable of carrying heavy traffic. The roads would generate electricity, and if all asphalt roads, car parks and cycle paths were replaced with their solar roadways this would produce three times the total American electricity consumption. All coal and gas power stations could be closed, and as electric cars could be recharged directly from the road while in motion, it would be a very achievable goal to replace all the fossil-fuel powered cars and trucks. Ducting under the roads could also be used for multiple functions, replacing electricity pylons and allowing for the rapid deployment of super-fast broadband. Storm water could also be dealt with in innovative and sustainable ways. Technologically this seems just brilliant.

The funding has been in part socially innovative: they’ve just raised $2,200,961 from 48,746 backers through the Indiegogo crowdfunding website. They have the most amazing range of online videos, from the fun ‘Solar Freaking Roadways’ video that went viral, to more sober TED talks. Do have a look at some of them via the link below. This really is America at it’s best: highly innovative, collaborative and inclusive. This is the very best kind of technology that seeks to solve multiple problems simultaneously. Solar Roadways is a strong contender for my technology of the year!


Obama and and on trucks

San Francisco

Solar Roadways: the 7.00 min fun Solar Freaking Roadways video is near the top on this page, the TED talks lower down the page.