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Morocco Leads the Way in Africa for Solar


Hundreds of parabolic, concave curving mirrors at the Ouarzazate, Morocco Solar Power Station cover an area that would accommodate 200 football fields. The mirrors focus sunlight onto a network of pipes through which flows synthetic oil. The internal temperatures of the pipes reach temperatures up to 662?F. The hot oil produces high-pressure water vapor that drives turbine-powered generators.

Morocco has launched one of the world's most ambitious solar energy endeavors: the construction of 5 solar power installations at a cost of $9 billion to be complete by 2019.

The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, is leading the project, along with the National Office of Electricity and Potable Water and the Spanish consortium TSK-Acciona-Sener.

Morocco is the only African country with a power cable link to Europe. MASEN ( originally aimed to achieve 42% of the country's energy mix from renewable sources by 2020, but has recently raised the bar to 52% by 2030.

The first plant, commissioned in 2015, is the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, named for a town six miles distant. It is in the Dr?a-Tafilalet region, a central area of Morocco at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, where arid plateaus range from 3,600 to 4,700 feet above sea level, with annual mean temperatures of 68 ?F and 330 days of sunshine a year.

Towers with solar collectors are surrounded by a field of hundreds of heliostatic mirrors that move in response to changes in the sun's position. While the plant is a "parabolic trough type" solar collection system, is also incorporates the interesting ability to store solar energy in the form of molten salt, which allows three hours of production of electricity into the night.

Not everyone is convinced that more solar power development is what Africa needs. In his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of Pretoria in South Africa on July 17, 2016, Bill Gates said solar is not the answer for Africa's need for "cheap, clean energy." He noted that 7 in 10 Africans still lack power at present, while more than 500 million Africans still won't have electricity by 2040. Gates said Africa's solar power initiatives have not been enough and would not be the solution for the continent. He advocates for hydropower and geothermal investment.

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association strongly disagrees with Gates' assessment of solar power for Africa, and notes 965 megawatts of new solar capacity "delivered on time and on budget" in South Africa.

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October 19, 2018, 11:44 am PDT

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