The Noor complex—a massive solar farm outside of Ouarzazate, Morocco, that covers over 1,000 acres—will be the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world when it is completed in 2018. When completed, the $3.9 billion solar power plant is expected to produce enough electricity to power more than a million homes. But the Moroccan government isn’t going to wait until then to start harnessing solar energy, as the plant was switched on by Moroccan King Mohammed VI on February 4, according to CNN.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) plants like Morocco’s don’t harness energy the same way that typical solar cells do. CSP uses mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight onto a small area, heating up a liquid to generate steam and drive a turbine. Solar cells like you might see on a neighbor’s roof generate electricity from light through semiconductors that are subject to a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect.
The Noor complex also has a unique way to store energy during the night—it uses solar thermal energy to melt cylinders full of salt that retain their heat well enough to provide three hours of power after the sun has set. Morocco currently uses imported fossil fuels for 97 percent of it’s energy consumption, and the Noor project is part of a major effort in the country to set up sustainable power plants to cover 42 percent of the nation’s power needs by 2020.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a prime location for solar infrastructure due to large amounts of undeveloped space, the frequently powerful sunlight, and the need for electricity in the region. According to CNN, the entire region not including South Africa has the power-generating capabilities of Argentina. The nearby city of Ouarzazate—where inadequate power generation has led to problems like malfunctioning hospital equipment—is expected to benefit significantly from the now-operational Noor complex.