The African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, various international financial institutions and the government of Morocco have committed substantial concessional finance to developing solar power projects. As long ago as 2009, Morocco announced a hugely ambitious $9bn plan to produce no less than 2,000MW of electricity by 2020.
The country currently imports nearly 2.5m tons of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, much of which is utilised to generate its electricity needs in thermal power stations, and those fuels account for around one-quarter of Morocco's total imports bill.
Morocco inaugurated the Ain Beni Mathar Integrated Solar Thermal Combined Cycle Power Station in 2010 and this represented the AfDB's first investment in concentrated solar power. This plant combines solar power and thermal gas power. The use of this system helped reduce the national fuel bill, and avoids emissions of 1,000 tons of C[O.sub.2] per year compared to a fully gas-powered plant.
Ain Beni Mathar in Morocco, near the border with Algeria, was considered the perfect site to build a thermal and solar hybrid plant. The first of its kind in Africa, Ain Beni Mathar underpins the decision to build five concentrated solar power (CSP) plants.
The first CSP site being planned is now under construction and is scheduled to become operational next year. It leverages the huge amount of solar energy that falls on the North African region in general. Morocco receives more than 3,000 hours of dependable sunshine every year, and studies have shown that 15% of Europe's energy could be provided by North African solar power plants by 2050.
It is estimated that this plant, to be built at Ouarzazate, south-west of Marrakesh, will be three times as efficient as a similar plant built in northern Europe latitudes, in Manchester or Warsaw for example.
The first phase of the Ouarzazate concentrated solar power plant will generate 160MW of power, but eventually this site will be expanded in a second phase to generate a further 300MW.
Concessional clean technology funds (CTF) were provided by the AfDB and the World Bank. Other Multilateral Development Banks-European Investment Bank, Agence Francaise de Developpement, German Development Bank (KfW), and the EU's Neighbourhood Investment Facility-as well as Moroccan financial institutions and the government, have all committed finance for the first phase of the project that is expected to have an operational life of 25 years.
The AfDB has advanced $70m from the CTF in the form of an investment, and granted a 25-year loan of [euro]168m, ($216.5m) from its own resources.
Already, tenders for Ouarzazate's second phase, invited earlier this year, were received by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), a Moroccan public entity established in 2010 in order to implement the Moroccan 2000MW solar plan.
"The Ouarzazate first phase is a key milestone for the success of the Moroccan solar programme," says Mustapha Bakkoury, the president of Masen. "While answering both energy and environmental concerns, it provides a strong opportunity for green growth, green job creation, and increased regional market integration. It will pave the way for the positive implementation of the regional initiatives sharing the same vision. The support of international financial institutions, through development financing but also climate change dedicated financing, is essential to help bring the overall scheme to economic viability," Bakkoury elaborates.
Types of Concentrated Solar Plants
There are four basic solar thermal power plant designs, but they all work on the principle of concentrating solar power with parabolic collectors (mirrors) that direct that solar energy onto a receiver. Ouarzazate uses parabolic trough collectors--the other designs being Fresnel collectors, solar tower plants and the dish Sterling system. …