Morocco puts itself at vanguard of solar revolution

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Morocco puts itself at vanguard of solar revolution

Free and essentially limitless, the sun is one of the world's biggest – and cheapest – sources of energy. Back in 2014, the International Energy Agency said that the sun could be the planet's biggest source of electricity by 2050.

In North Africa, Morocco's vast Noor Ouarzazate solar complex – one of the world's largest – uses concentrated solar power (CSP) to produce clean energy.

The Solar Energy Industries Association describes CSP as using mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy in order to drive steam turbines or engines which, in turn, generate electricity.

Other examples of CSP facilities include the Ivanpah facility in California, which provides around 140,000 homes with clean electricity every year, according to BrightSource Energy, one of its owners.

"Concentrated solar power is different in that we use the heat of the sun, not the electrons of the sun," Paddy Padmanathan, chief executive and president of ACWA Power, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"We have discovered that we are able to store the heat in salt, melt the salt, put the heat into the salt, and take it out," he added. "You can put (it in), take it out, put (it in), take it out, very efficiently." This enables energy to be stored and then used when the sun isn't shining.

For Padmanathan, the difference between renewables and traditional fossil fuels is based not only on environmental factors.

"The big difference – quite apart from the carbon issue – of renewable energy versus fossil fuel based energy, (is that) renewable energy is capex heavy, to build a plant is very expensive," he said. He went on to describe renewable energy as being "opex light."

"The Good Lord doesn't charge us for the fuel, so we don't have to pay for the operating costs, or the fuel costs," he said.

The future for renewables looks promising, according to Padmanathan. "Costs will continue to come down, there is a hell of a lot more innovation to go into renewable energy."

"As demand grows I think in future we will see a country like Morocco stop building fossil fuel based plants, and it will automatically move everything into renewables," he added.