Morocco has a goal to achieve forty two percent of renewable energy target for 2020. And with the current power plants that are operating and some under development cum construction; Morocco is already heading towards the next target for 2030. One of the firms; active in the renewable energy drive in Morocco is ACWA Power.

According to Wikipedia, Ouarzazate Solar Power Station (OSPS), also called Noor Power Station is a solar power complex located in the Draa-Tafilalet region in Morocco, 10 km from Ouarzazate town, in Ghessat rural council area. The entire Solar Project is planned to produce 580 MW at peak when finished and is being built in three phases and in four parts. Total project expected to cost $9 billion.

The plant will be able to store solar energy in the form of heated molten salt, allowing for production of electricity into the night. Phase 1 comes with a full-load molten salt storage capacity of three hours. And it was connected to the Moroccan power grid on the 5th of February 2016. It covers 450 hectares (1,112 acres) and is expected to deliver 370 GWh per year. The plant is a parabolic trough type with a molten salt storage for 3 hours of low-light producing capacity.

NOOR Phase two and three plants are due to open in 2017 and 2018 and would store energy for up to eight hours. It will cover an area of 2,500 hectares (6,178 acres).

Furthermore, NOOR 1 is part of NOOR Solar Complex, which will be the world’s largest CSP complex once completed. NOOR Solar Complex will provide power to more than one million people, while preventing the release of 300,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses annually.

Africa’s largest solar power complex is situated in the ancient city of Ouarzazate; which is renowned for her role as the preferable city where Roman themed and Biblical themed Hollywood movies are shot. Movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiators, Game of Thrones (a part of the TV Series), Cleopatra, St Paul, The Seventh Scroll, The Mummy, Jesus, Esther, The Garden of Eden, Jeremiah, David, Solomon. And modern movies like Rules of Engagement (Samuel L. Jackson), Bodies of Lies (Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe) to name a few.
ACWA Power will complete Africa’s largest solar power facility with 1 new solar PV project and build 2 more projects, adding 170 MW to the installed energy capacity of Ouarzazate, Morocco. The new developments
will be constructed, funded and managed by ACWA Power’s new renewable energy division ACWA Power RenewCo.

At the just concluded United Nations’ COP22 Climate Change Summit from November 7-18; in Marrakech, Morocco; the President of ACWA Power, the major stakeholder (which also has MASEN- Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy; collaborating) in the NOOR Solar Power Complex project, Mr Paddy Padmanathan sat with Dolapo Aina, for an exclusive interview at the NOOR Solar Power Complex in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Do read the excerpts.

Do let the readers know you
My name is Paddy Padmanathan. I am the President and CEO of a company called ACWA Power, headquartered out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but now operating in eleven countries. Our entire mission is to reliably deliver electricity and desalinated water at the lowest possible cost, on bulk basis, on long term, off take contracts. We typically serve government owned utility companies or energy intensive industrial enterprises. Our mission is to deliver electricity and desalinated water. So we are not there propagating anything specific; we are technology-neutral and fuel agnostic. We serve our customers and if a customer says use fuel/gas, we use gas. If the customer says use wind-power, we use wind-power. And in today’s world, clearly, there is a clear link between carbon emission and climate change.

And there is a clear need to de-carbonate all human endeavour and recognising that power generation and desalinated water is consumed. Desalinated water production, are very energy intensive and fuel intensive for fuel intensive industries but we need to move towards renewable energy fast. And we are very glad to see that more of our customers are demanding renewable energy.

Today, we are also rapidly growing in the area of renewable energy. Here in the Kingdom of Morocco, we have been present here for five years. Our first investments here are in terms of very large renewable energy projects. The first project, you are visiting is a Concentrated Solar Power complex.
A Concentrated Solar Power uses the heat of the sun rather than the electrons in the sun. Photovoltaic panels use the electrons in the sun while Concentrated Solar Power uses the heat of the sun to boil water; to produce steam which then drives the steam turbine. The big advantage of this technology is also that over the years, scientists have discovered that you can store heat in salt. You can melt the salt, keep it very hot and then put heat into it and take heat out of it and very efficiently, you can do heat transfer. We are able to collect heat during the day, put it into the salt and then take it out at night and run the steam turbine.

Presently, we are in this project in the Kingdom of Morocco, in Ouarzazate, surrounded by Atlas Mountains. We are producing energy day and night using only solar power (the heat of the sun.)

So, this particular complex generates 160 megawatts of solar energy, which is enough to provide electricity for approximately 650,000 homes. It produces electricity during the day into the night.

There is a report that the facility is the biggest in Africa. How true?
Absolutely, correct. This facility which is already operating which is called NOOR 1 is 160 megawatts and three hours of storage. It is already the biggest solar plant in Africa. And now, we are building next to it, NOOR 2 and NOOR 3 (two more projects running simultaneously.) When completed at the end of 2017, the whole complex would produce 510 mega watts (during the day and seven hours at night.) Now, this complex would be the largest solar plant in the world and not just in Africa.

How much was deployed to build the NOOR1 Complex?
This particular complex has got $2.7billion investment in it. But the case of renewable energy is very straight forward. Of course, it costs a lot of money to build but once you have built it, the cost of operating and maintaining it; are minute. There is no fuel cost and it is very efficient. In whole life (lifetime) cost terms, it is very cost effective.

With fossil-based plants, you spend less money in building it but then you have to spend a tremendous amount of money operating it and of course, you have to put fuel in it and as you know, fuel cost fluctuates, but it is a very significant lifetime cost. But here, once you have made the investment, you would keep receiving electricity for life. The good Lord does not charge for the energy, so we are able to use it.

What is the return on investment since a lot of funds have been ploughed into this project and since obviously, this is not charity?
Obviously, this is not charity. Pertaining to this particular complex, we are very glad to benefit from a whole plethora of multi-national and bi-lateral donors but in this project, they are not donating any money. All of the money is coming in on commercial terms (full commercial terms.) And there is interest to be paid and capital needs to be repaid over twenty five years time. Our own equity investments, is that we have seventy percent plus ownership of the asset, our Moroccan government partner (MASEN) has twenty-five percent ownership and we also have some small investors. We have all got money in there and we are using it as a commercial venture (all of us are getting financial returns.) It is absolutely not different if it was going to be a coal-fire powered plant, no different if it was going to be a gas-powered plant.

By the next year 2017, the remaining plants would be completed and would become the biggest in the world?
Yes. By the end of 2017, the whole complex would be ready and would become the biggest in the world.

What is the percentage of the Moroccan population you are serving?
When the whole complex comes online; it would be eight percent of the electricity supply of Morocco. We are just one plant (renewable energy is quite big.) Morocco has a very clear ambition and they are taking all the right steps to achieve it. By 2030, they want to have fifty two percent of their electricity coming from renewable energy sources. They are a full convert in accepting that renewable energy is the way forward and they (I believe overtime) would convert all their energy generation and fulfil their commitments in Paris. There is no doubt whatsoever; they are probably one of the front runners in this business.

Also, Morocco has learnt that it is not just about generating green megawatts but also, you can use these investments and opportunities in order to industrialise your country in order to develop the communities in which these plants are being built. By the way, this interview is being conducted in the village of Tassalmant (Tassoumaat), standing in a beautiful setting overlooking Elwadi, where palm trees are being grown with the local community (singing and dancing at the back). The reason why we are here is very simple, this is one of the communities with whom we are working even though our core business is to produce electricity and desalinated water and nothing else, we have to live and work with this community for the next thirty years. So, we need to develop the communities along with us.

But, people would say this is charity. It is not charity and has nothing to do with charity. In fact, it is not that difficult for us when we are investing so much in order to move some of that investment for the betterment of the local community, buy goods and services for the community. So, in this particular case, we have helped this community improve the yield of the palm trees. So, if you interview the indigenes, you would discover that, in a matter of years, the yield has already gone up by seventy percent for the palm trees because we have been able to bring some expertise and show the indigenes, improved cultivation and improved ways of caring for their palm grooves. In other community areas, we are helping to rear chickens; they produce eggs and sell to our construction workers. They are improving local craft which we are then; able to take out and into town and help them sell their craft. So, we are trying to make the community benefit also from the power plant by developing along with it.

And quite a lot of the community people are now working in the construction site with us. Some would remain with us during the operational life as operating staff. These are all the added benefits of this kind of investment. Renewable energy more than other forms of energy tends to get built in remote sites regardless of whether your country is rich or poor; and also farther away from town centres you go; and that is where you find the poor and disadvantaged. Above all, ending up leaving investing in renewable energy is also a fantastic way of developing those communities.

By Dolapo Aina