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Morocco is known for several iconic trends, but renewable energy is not one of them. Soon this will all change, as the country positions itself to become the leader of the solar movement.

“We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget,” said Hakima el-Haite, Morocco’s environment minister. “We also used to subsidize fossil fuels which have a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought, why not?”

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Unlocking the Desert’s Potential

To move away from non renewable resource dependency, the country is building the world’s largest solar power plant in the city of Ouarzazate. The farm (roughly the size of its capital, Rabat) is called Noor, which translates to “light” in Arabic. Phase one involves the installation of more than 500,000 mirrors arranged in 800 rows. Heat generated from the machines is pushed to steel pipes that create steam using a transfer solution. The steam will then be applied to power large turbines that produce sustainable energy. Mirror technology was chosen over photovoltaic panels due to its ability to process power after sunset.

Phase two and three of the project will start next year, with completion of the entire plant by 2020. Once fully operational, the solar farm will be able to generate 580 Megawatts of electricity, which is equivalent to one million homes. Officials are aiming for full reliance on renewable sources.

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Preparing for Climate Change

The group plans to supplement its farm with other forms of natural energy, such as hydro and wind. With a whopping $9 billion budget, the government isn’t holding back on what could be a milestone achievement in the renewable energy space. Investors in the project include the European Investment Bank and World Bank. Energy subsidies are also in place to prevent the cost of the plant from being pushed to local citizens.

With a strong solar foundation, Morocco could use the plant for water desalination projects. Due to the relentlessly dry conditions of the desert, the country is often hit by devastating droughts. Such initiatives will likely have compounding benefits in the future, as climate change continues to escalate globally.

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Supplying Power to the World

After the government meets its own needs, the next step is to share the power source with nearby countries. Officials are already in talks with Tunisia and other regions around the Mediterranean. But before it can start exporting power, infrastructure has to be established to facilitate the transfer of energy. Unsurprisingly, countries that want to partner with the provider will have to make an effort to build their own interconnectors if they want to get a head start on securing solar energy contracts.

“We believe that it’s possible to export energy to Europe, but first we would have to build the interconnectors which don’t yet exist,” explained Maha el-Kadiri, a Masen spokeswoman. “Specifically, we would have to build interconnections, which would not go through the existing one in Spain, and then start exporting.” Regardless, for a country that had no stake in the solar arena, Morocco could become the poster child for creating and exporting renewable energy.

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