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Morocco gets more than a half of its energy from coal. But as North African kingdom's energy requirements grow, the government is encouraging Moroccans to look for cleaner sources of energy.
"We need to find alternative forms of energy to meet Morocco's needs, and the best is solar," Mustapha Bakkourt, of Morocco's Solar Energy Agency, said. "It's free energy that is unlimited, available and abundant in Morocco."
As the nation strives to become a world-class renewable energy producer, its first solar power plant is being constructed near the desert gateway city of Ouarzazate. Slated to come online in 2015, the Nour 1 thermo-solar plant is the first of five that Moroccan officials plan to build by the end of the decade.
"Ouarzazate is an environmentally sustainable city with energy, recycling, land reclamation and water saving," said Hakima el-Haite, Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment. "It's also about micro-irrigation, wastewater reuse, lighting with solar. It's a smart city."
The $770 million project is expected to have the capacity to generate 160 megawatts.
The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank are helping to finance the Saudi-built solar complex built, which officials are calling the largest of its kind in the world.
To raise awareness about Morocco's strong solar-energy potential, the oil-scarce recently country organized its first international solar festival.
"We organized this festival to show one idea: gold is in the sky," said Mehdi Alaoui M'Daghri, an event planner. "The sun is a treasure for our country. We want to demonstrate this through three main areas: arts and culture, science and technology, knowledge and discovery."
Morocco expects to build five new solar plants by 2020 with a combined production capacity of 2,000 megawatts at an estimated cost of $9 billion. Officials are hoping to produce enough clean energy to export some of it to nearby Europe.