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