On the edge of the Sahara desert, engineers make final checks to a sea of metal mirrors turned towards the sun, preparing for the launch of Morocco’s first solar power plant.
The ambitious project is part of the North African country’s goal of boosting its clean energy output with what it says will eventually be the world’s largest solar power production facility.
Morocco has scarce oil and gas reserves, and is the biggest importer of energy in the Middle East and North Africa.
The plant is part of a vision to move beyond this heavy dependency and raise renewable energy production to 42% of its total power needs by 2020.
About 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Ouarzazate, half a million U-shaped mirrors—called “parabolic troughs”—stretch out in 800 rows, slowly following the sun as it moves across the sky.
Spread over an area equivalent to more than 600 football pitches, they store thermal energy from the sun’s rays and use it to activate steam turbines that produce electricity.
King Mohamed VI launched construction of the plant, called Noor 1, in 2013, at a cost of 600 million euros ($660 million) and involving roughly 1,000 workers.
Its start of operations by the end of this month was set to coincide with the conclusion of high-stakes COP21 global climate talks in Paris.
“Construction work has finished,” said Obaid Amran, a board member of Morocco’s solar power agency.
“We are testing components of the production units with a view to connecting them to the national grid at the end of the year.”