Morocco polishes up its energy sector

Just 200 kilometres away from Marrakech, between the sight of Atlas Mountains and the beginning of Sahara desert, Morocco’s greatest effort to introduce renewable energy takes shape.

The project to construct a thermosolar plant called Noor (“light” in Arabic) in Morocco got selected in 2011 as part of an investment package from Desertec, with the main objective of promoting the development of power plants in places where renewable resources were more abundant, such as North Africa, and then being able to provide energy to Europe through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Noor has been developed in different phases. Stage I started in May 2013, with the installation of half million mirrors covering an area of about 450 hectares and an installed capacity of 160MW. It was finally connected to Morocco’s power grid on 2016, and it’s estimated to deliver throughout the year about 370GW. Following stages of the project are expected to be up and running by 2018, according to the head of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy, Mustapha Bakkoury. When that happens, the total installed capacity will be of 580MW, enough to power over a million homes.

Interestingly enough, Noor planners have decided to combine different ways of energy storage in the different stages of the project. For instance, in Stage I and II, mirrors concentrate sun’s rays onto synthetic oil that runs through pipes, and through the heating of it a water vapour is created and gets a turbine-powered generator going. Stage III, however, will use the solar power plant system: all the mirrors will reflect the sun onto a receiver on this tower, and the heat from them will be passed and stored into molten salts, which experts affirm is a more efficient way of storing solar energy, reaching up to 8 hours of energy storage.

Water use is another of the issues to face in the implementation of a solar plant in the dessert, and again, planners have given different solutions to the different phases: while Stage I started with a wet cooling system, following stages went for a dry cooling one, in order to save water. However, mirrors still need to be cleaned up regularly in order to maintain an efficiency standard in the energy production, and that’s where the most intense use of water will happen.

Morocco has realized the importance of this strategic sector and is determined to make the best out of this comparative advantage. Until recently, the country imported 97% of its energy needs, something absolutely unreasonable when considering that Morocco has one of the world’s largest potential for solar power production, with up to 3,600 hours of sun in the desert. Now, a new trend of investment in renewable energy is dominant: 34% of the country’s electric power production comes from renewable sources, mainly hydro, wind, and solar. Its plan is continue on this path, estimating a generation of 42% from renewables by 2020, and 52% by 2030.

 

 

The implications of their approach to this opportunity are of great importance, not only for their own economy, but for the African continent as a whole. The fact that the country with the closest links to Europe takes the lead and develops diverse energy strategies, thinking on its own energetic needs but also on the European market, can produce drag effects on many other African countries, that potentially could become exporter of power supplies to Europe, as well as amongst themselves. Countries like Ghana, Rwanda and Congo are already investing in solar power projects. It could be the beginning of the new era of clean energy production in Africa, and Morocco is decided to spearhead the change.

India looking forward to bank on Solar power

In India, Solar power has become the catchword for many states in recent times. Internationally, the price of solar power components has been declining at 15% year over year, and states are leveraging this trend. India’s commitments on increasing its non-fossil fuel component of power generation to 40% by 2030 are substantial. Even though coal usage has been increasing too but India is confident to use more solar power. In Gujrat (one of the states in India) they have been using Solar power a bit for a while. The project was the brainchild of Narendra Modi. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi spurred companies to build more than 900MW of solar plant across the state in just a couple of years. Now, as prime minister, the question is whether he can repeat the feat across India, which receives more sunlight than any other country in the G20. India’s booming cities are another huge challenge, with many struggling with blackouts, particularly when temperatures soar and air conditioning is ramped up. Again, Modi’s 13-year tenure in Gujarat is providing the solar template. In September, it was announced that rooftop solar power projects in the state capital, Gandhinagar, will be replicated in Punjab and Delhi, where a storm at the end of May plunged its fragile grid into rolling blackouts for a week.

Delhi is ever more power-hungry, but with little open land and 300-plus days of sunshine a year, rooftop solar is an attractive solution. India’s pledge document talks about increasing nuclear power from 5 GW to 63 GW by 2032 and doubling wind capacity to 60 GW by 2022. But the most ambitious is the plan to increase solar capacity from 4 GW to 100 GW in the next seven years. With the liability issue bogging down nuclear, much of the heavy lifting may have to be done by solar and, to some extent, wind.

Solar power has become the catchword for many states in recent times. Internationally, the price of solar power components has been declining at 15% year over year, and states are leveraging this trend to get good deals. Recently, Madhya Pradesh was able to beat down the price it will have to pay for power from a solar project to Rs 5.05 a unit.
The pledge document says: “A scheme for development of 25 solar parks, ultra mega solar power projects, canal top solar projects and 1,00,000 solar pumps for farmers is at different stages of implementation.” The 100 GW expansion planned nationwide would need acquisition of nearly 5 lakh acres of land – at least three times the size of Mumbai.

I really hope India start using more non fossil fuels and less charcoal.

Source: The guardian, TOI