Watts new in Morocco? Solar power advances in Africa

Solar power harnesses energy produced by sunlight and converts it into electricity, either by Photovoltaic Solar Power (PV) or Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). A solar power plant covering just 0.3 % of Sahara’s surface could supply enough energy to meet European’s energy demand.


The world’s largest solar thermal power plant is being built in Africa in the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate, with a potential to generate a total of 580 MW at peak output once complete.

Ouarzazate is one of the sunniest places in the world with a Direct Normal Irradiation (DNI) of 2635 kWh/m2/year, therefore, harnessing such strong sunshine will provide an abundance of economic benefits for the country.

World map of Direct Normal Irradiation

Figure 1: World map of Direct Normal Irradiation

Figure 2: comparing Moroccan and UK annual irradiation levels

Figure 2: comparing Moroccan and UK annual irradiation levels

The CSP plant uses mirrors to reflect incoming solar radiation towards tanks of molten salt. Molten salt is a heat conveying fluid, with a high heat capacity, that stores energy during its phase change. The salt is heated to above 300oC, as it flows through specialised piping in the receiver, before using it to boil water to drive energy-generated turbines. It is then used as a heat source for the solar power generation system. The fluid is heated during the day time and can store up to three hours’ worth of heat energy. Stored energy can then be released at any time of day or several hours at night to generate steam and drive turbines and subsequently, produce electricity.

In the first phase of the project, with an expected completion date at the end of 2015, Noor 1, will generate 160 MW of electricity at peak output. 500,000 solar mirrors, which move following the direction of the sun will reduce annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 0.250 MT CO2e, leading to a 0.04% reduction in global output.

Noor 2 and Noor 3 will constitute the next phases of the project, with completion expected in 2017. It is anticipated that such progress could allow heat energy to be stored for up to eight hours, raising the idea of 24/7 solar energy availability.

In the long term, Morocco will develop a competitive edge in energy. By 2020, renewable energy production in Morocco will constitute half of all electricity used in the country.


A solar power plant in Rwanda, Eastern Africa was completed in 2014. The 28, 000 photovoltaic panels that comprise the plant, track east to west with the sun and convert light into an electrical current using the photovoltaic effect. The energy from the sun is converted directly into electricity by semi-conducting materials.

The plant produces 8.5 MW of electricity; despite being smaller than the project under construction in Morocco, the Rwanda plant covers 7% of the total power supply in the country.

PV panels in Rwanda solar power plant

Figure 3: PV panels in Rwanda solar power plant

Solar power is a key component of Africa’s future. In the first instance Africa is using solar energy to meet growing needs for its own dependence, with opportunity in the future to export energy to European markets.