One of the great things about teaching students in Pratt’s Undergraduate Architecture program is that so many of them come to Pratt from abroad. International students bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that greatly broadens the dialogue in our classroom, and are especially important members of courses with an international world view. Obviously my Ecology for Architects course is one such course, and this semester one of my students who grew up in Morocco alerted me to a rather amazing sustainable energy project in his home country. The Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, located near the town of Ouarzazate in central Morocco, is slated to be the largest solar-electric generating project in the world. It is exciting that countries like Morocco are investing so much into sustainable sources of energy. This project seems to me like a fantastic example of what sustainable development should look like: as populations expand, the infrastructure that supports those expanding populations need to be sustainable.
What’s particularly cool about this project is that it uses concentrated solar thermal technologies — rather than photovoltaic systems — to generate electricity. While photovoltaics offer a more direct link between the energy in the sun’s rays and generated electricity, they suffer from a major drawback: when the sun’s not out, photovoltaics don’t power the energy grid. In contrast solar thermal systems can power the grid at night. That’s because solar thermal systems generate electricity more indirectly: they first convert sunlight into heat and then use that heat to generate electricity. A place like Morocco is ideal for solar thermal because in the sun-drenched environment of this desert country there’s so much potential to heat the fluid in the solar thermal systems to really high temperatures, temperatures high enough to generate the steam that runs the electricity-producing turbines almost all night long.
You can read more about Morocco’s big solar project here:
National Public Radio “Morocco Unveils A Massive Solar Power Plant In The Sahara”
EcoMENA “Renewable Energy in Morocco”
Thanks to Chafiq Ennaoui for bringing this very inspiring project to my attention!
NASA satellite image of the Noor I solar-electric site courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsA Minor Post, Deserts, MSCI-271, Ecology for Architects, Public Policy, Sustainability, Sustainable Energy