For a long time, people looking for big fixes to climate change have been talking about building huge solar installations in North Africa, which gets a lot more sun than most of the places where solar power is big - Germany, for example. But now, it looks as if someone finally is doing it.
Next month in Ouarzazate, Morocco, the first portion of what eventually will be the world's biggest concentrated solar power plant -- called Noor I -- is set to go online, according to the Guardian, a British newspaper.
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Eventually, when the entire $10 billion complex, which is being financed with assistance from the World Bank and European Union, is completed in 2020, it will generate 580 megawatts of electricity, enough to provide a big portion of Morocco's energy needs while still leaving plenty of juice for export. The complex could prevent 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the atmosphere each year.
The plant uses an ingenious technology for getting the most out of sunlight. A huge array of 500,000 crescent-shaped mirrors focus sunlight and transmit it to a single point on a tower. (The mirrors actually have tiny computers in them, which adjust the angle throughout the day to gather the most energy.)
Once the energy is transmitted to the central tower, it will be used to heat thousands of tons of salt and pump it back down inside the tower into an insulated thermal storage area, where the molten material can be stored with little heat loss. That will enable the plant to run turbines at a steady rate, even at night, and generate electricity. After the salt cools, it will be recirculated to the top of the tower to be heated again.
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The plant employs similar technology to one being built in Nevada, as well as another in Chile.
The plant could turn Morocco, which depends upon fossil fuel imports to fill 94 percent of its energy needs, into a major producer of electricity for export. The country's long-term strategy is to join with other North African countries in forming a grid with cables under the Mediterranean to Europe. While a previous effort to build such a consortium a few years ago ultimately failed, the potential still exists.
"We are very proud of this project," Morocco's environmental minister, Hakima el-Haite, told the Guardian. "I think it is the most important solar plant in the world."