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Published on December 9th, 2014 | by Mridul Chadha


Moroccan Solar Thermal Project Gets $250 Million In Fresh Debt Funding

December 9th, 2014 by  

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has approved nearly $250 million in loan to support construction and operation of Morocco’s Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project Phase-II. This phase will include construction of two concentrated solar plants with an aggregate capacity of 350 MW.

Parabolic Trough Reflectors

This is the second time the project has secured funding from African Development Bank. In 2012, AfDB provided a $123 million loan from the bank’s own resources and a loan of $100 million from the Clean Technologies Fund for the development of Phase-I Noor-Ouarzazate project. This project received funding from various other international lenders as well including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. Earlier this year, World Bank had also provided $519 million loan for the development of Phase II.

The total capacity of the concentrated solar power (CSP) project would be 510 MW. This would be the largest CSP project in the world on completion. The first phase of the Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Project is currently under construction with an installed capacity of 160 MW and is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2015.

The complete Noor-Ouarzazate project is expected to be commissioned in 2019. Once completed, the project will provide 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity generation. The project is a part of Moroccan Solar Energy Program which aims to install 2 GW of solar power capacity by 2020. The program includes implementation of five solar power projects spread over an area of 10,000 hectares.

Morocco, being the largest energy importer in the MENA region with fossil fuel comprising 97% of the energy mix, certainly requires vast scale development of renewable energy projects to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The Moroccan government hopes to increase the share of renewable energy in the power mix to 42% by 2020.

Image Credit: Z22 | CC BY-SA 3.0

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About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

  • Bill_Woods

    “Once completed, the [Ouarzazate] project will provide 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity generation.”
    A typo or something. From the previous article:

    When fully constructed, the project will have an installed capacity of 510 MW or about 8% of Morocco’s current installed power generation capacity.


    And presumably a smaller percentage of electricity generation.

  • Michael G

    This is the kind of situation where solar will really take off. Sun-drenched countries with few FF resources looking at the huge bill for importing FF. If tiny Morocco can show the way, Egypt and other far larger countries can follow.

    The next step is to add solar desalination and make the desert bloom.

    • Larmion

      Even with plenty of water, a desert won’t bloom for long. There’s been no pedogenesis for millenia, the soil drains rapidly, insolation is too high for all but the hardiest CAM-plants, mineral content is high and sandstorms would again kill off a lot of crops.

      But more importantly, desalination is insanely expensive. Far too expensive for the volumes required to sustain agriculture. At best you’d be looking at some small scale glasshouse farming.

      Oh, and perhaps most importantly of all: why would you want to spend a lot of time, money and effort on growing stuff in the desert when there’s no shortage of agricultural land elsewhere?

      • Michael G

        Water is not a significant cost factor in food. Doubling the cost of water might add 10%-15% to food costs. See this paper on the variability of consumer prices as a function of input cost increases.


        Water isn’t mentioned specifically, but all the other inputs are much more significant. Secondary processing is 60% to 70% of the cost of food.

        As for arable land availability: “Overall, the increasing scarcity of arable land, water constraints and rising input and …” page 31 the OECD’s 2013 agricultural outlook here:


        Do a search on “water” in that document and note it is usually in a sentence with “scarcity” as in the following:

        “It is estimated that some 25% of all agricultural land is highly degraded, with growing water scarcity a fact for many countries.” (pg 43, op cit.)

        Most people who look at all 57 references to water in that doc. will realize the importance and viability of desalination as one (of many) solutions to current and coming water crises. Wise water use would be best, but we have fouled our own nest for so long now, desalination may be the only way to dig ourselves out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

        As for why grow in the desert – good question – ask every farmer in California and the rest of the American South West. High value-added crops needing lots of sunlight can be a considerable export product for many countries. Most of CA’s *very* water intensive almond production is exported to China.

        • Larmion

          a) We’re talking about far more than a doubling of cost of water. And the share of water is insigificant only for two reasons:

          – Farmers are allowed to abstract water at below market value.
          – Most agricultural production is generated in areas with plentiful water supply, thus pushing the global average down.

          Neither of those points is likely to hold true in a desert environment: the owners of the solar stills will want payment and water will always be a limiting factor.

          And even if the cost could ever be reasonable, we’d still be talking about an extra cost for growing crops on what is already marginal soil. In a world that has been generating large food surpluses year after year after year since the green revolution, imports are the better bet.

          b) The OECD report says nothing about physical shortages of agricultural products. It’s a purely economic report and its conclusion that agrocommodities will see sharp price rises (hardly a surprise, they’ve been incredibly underpriced in the last half century or so).

          However, that’s not to say that food security is in danger. The world has been generating food surpluses for decades and will continue doing so for the forseeable future. As always, its the geographic distribution of those surpluses and economic factors such as inappropriate pricing signals for inputs rather than any physical scarcity that is behind ‘scarcity’.

          The report also works from business as usual. Given improvements in plant breeding (which I play a small part in every day at work), soil management, irrigation techniques, green manure and the like, that’s an unrealistic assumption.

          I’m very much a fan of the OECD, but it has had a tendency to publish reports that go well beyond its core competency in recent years. Not all of them have been entirely accurate – not that long ago, they were predicting the failure of renewables.

          c) California is an exception – it is one of only a very small number of agro-ecosystems growing climate-inappropriate crops on a large scale. It’s also one of the only large agro-ecosystems in arid climates that has only the most rudimentary of water conservation regulations (no universal drip irrigation for perennial crops? Seriously?).

          By the way, California’s agricultural areas are by no stretch of imagination arid. Most enjoy decent (if rather variable) water resources – the problem is that poor agricultural practice paired with an emphasis on horticultural crops over arable crops has led to excessive consumption.

          Also note that California’s almond groves have something no desert has: a soil. Deserts underwent no soil formation – even if they could be watered adequately, they won’t form even marginally productive cropland without decades upon decades of careful ecological engineering first.

          You’re right: we have a water issue. The solution is not to be found in spraying more water over more land though. Apart from economics, it’s just not viable from an agricultural engineering perspective.

          Instead, we will have to continue to work on yield improvements in areas with good soil and water resources (keeping Borlaugh’s hypothesis in mind) and start closing yield gaps in tropical agriculture (something that has worked for the big crops like rice already).

          And California? Well, farmers will start learning their lesson the next time they have to rip up almond trees just when they were starting to mature 🙂

          • Michael G

            Larmion, I have provided source after source from scientific papers, major international organizations, etc. You have provided unsupported assertions.

            Anyone interested in just one example of what is being done with desalinization and making deserts arable currrently can read this:


            “In a matter of 18 months, the institute managed to convert 4,000 square meters in what Pachauri described as “hyper saline waste land” in Qatar’s southern Dukhan area into a productive habitat where vegetables and grains could now grow, he said.”

            Or just search on “making deserts arable”. Many, many interesting research and development articles.

          • Larmion

            No, you cited the OECD, a political talking shop that does no scientific research whatsoever – note that their report doesn’t include a single line of agricultural science, only economic analysis.

            I did what you said on Web of Science and found very little, except for some articles that showed it worked for some small scale, high value horticultural applications. Google was a lot more optimistic, as tends to happen when results aren’t peer reviewed 😉

            Nowhere in this article is cost or sustainability mentioned. All it says is that’s it’s possible with unlimited inputs. Sure, I won’t deny that.

            Agriculture, like most areas of life, is a triangle that has to balance cost, environmental impact and yield. You can easily have one of those anywhere in the world (in this case, you can get decent yield at very high cost and with huge energy input), but rarely all of them.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect the best we can hope for is to carefully and slowly push the desert back. The most we may pull off is the slowing of desertification.

      We’ve got a massive amount of land that has soil but too little water. We might be able to increase growth of some food crops in those places.

      What probably makes most sense is to a) improve farming practices where we already have soil and water, 2) build storage and transportation so we can get food to people before it spoils.

      • Larmion

        Halting further desertification is doable. Pushing the desert back (recovering what’s already lost) is a fool’s errand at present. Maybe it can be done with careful ecological engineering, but not before decades have passed. Even so, the edges of deserts have always been vague and ever shifting things.

        You’re absolutely spot on with the second part. Although (a) will take more than farming practices alone. It will also require further innovation in crop science (breeding for stress tolerance and WUE) and in agricultural economics (distorted price incentives due to market failure and government interventions are a leading cause of water scarcity and land degradation)

      • Michael G

        Since this is all sort of hypothetical – as in “after we all get our jet packs, where should we travel?” – I gladly accept your compromise as a happy resolution.

    • JamesWimberley

      I’ve been to Ouarzazate. The Transatlas gets a little water running off the Atlas mountains, some of which get snow in winter. There are a fair number of oasis settlements, even towns. It’s too far from the sea for desalination to be remotely feasible.

      Have a look at the map. The Sahara (3.6 million square miles) is as large as the United States or China. Desalination for agriculture will happen,if it ever does, near coasts.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Perhaps we’ll see desalinated water used for plants as a ‘secondary use’. Use it directly first, clean it up a bit, and then use it on crops.

        (I’m not talking about farming the desert. But perhaps a small portion of what we grow.)

        • Larmion

          That’s already being done in many locations. It’s a nice way to get the most out of what water is available, but the volumes involved are tiny. Residential and industrial water use aren’t that big on a global scale.

      • Michael G

        I wasn’t talking about “making the desert bloom” in that particular location. Just in general in desert areas. Anyway, here is one project to make the Sahara bloom.


  • JamesWimberley

    The name is interesting. Wikipedia: “Nur (also spelled Noor, Nor, or Nour) is a common Arabic unisex name meaning light. An-Nur, meaning “the light” in Arabic, is the 24th sura of the Qur’an.” The King of Morocco is a religious as well as a secular leader. The name attaches a lot of positive symbolic baggage to this large solar project and Morocco’s solar ambitions.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Good stuff. Thanks.

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