Social Innovation: Morocco to become a Power House of Solar Energy

Is it possible for social innovation to harvest solar energy from the plains of the Moroccan desert? Well, DESERTEC Foundation, a global civil society initiative aiming to shape a sustainable future, believes it can. It’s expecting to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014. The aim is to use desert power to supply up to 100% of local needs and up to 15% of European demand by 2050. Paul Van Son, CEO, DESERTEC Investment Initiative, says, "There is nothing which is unrealistic." Morocco is the only North African country without significant oil and gas deposits; with a growing population and ambitious industrial programme, the country's demand for energy is projected to quadruple by 2030.

The planet is currently facing big challenges as global energy demand is climbing rapidly due to population growth and the progress of industrialisation. At the same time, global CO2 emissions have to be drastically reduced within the next few years in order to prevent the disasters caused by climate change. This is where the concept of DESERTEC steps in, offering a worldwide solution of sufficient clean power that can be generated from deserts to supply everyone with enough electricity on a sustainable basis. DESERTEC is an integrated social innovation idea, which includes energy security, climate protection, drinking water production, socio-economic development, security policy and international cooperation.

European renewable energy targets, along with Germany's decision this year to phase out nuclear power, will drive significant demand, and no-one doubts the physical potential of the desert to generate renewable power. In fact it is already happening: there are social innovation installations in the deserts, solar installations and wind parks. However, creating a power network in the desert presents a series of tough problems, from nomads stealing solar parts to the technological and political challenges of transporting and delivering electricity over such a big area.

The social innovation technology that will initially be used in Morocco is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), a process in which sunlight is concentrated by mirrors to heat water which produces steam to drive a turbine. The heat can be stored, allowing a secure supply even when the sun is not shining. CSP is becoming cheaper, though not as quickly as Photovoltaic (PV) power, which is the use of solar panels to convert sunshine directly into electricity.

DESERTEC is hoping that construction will start in 2012 on a 500 megawatt (MW) solar plant, though the exact location and social innovation technology are to be determined. Interestingly, at the same time as DESERTEC hopes to start the process, Morocco too is also due to start building the first of five of its own solar plants in 2012, near the south-eastern desert town of Ouarzazate. So, I will leave you all with this great fact from DESERTEC: “within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.”

Photo Credit: daryl_mitchell

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