Navigant Research Blog

Solar in the Sahara

— December 7, 2015

Set to become the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world, Morocco commissioned the first phase of its Noor-Ouarzazate project in November 2015. This 160 MW installation is just the first of four projects that will constitute the larger 580 MW plant. Located on the edges of the Sahara Desert in Ouarzazate, this project aims to ultimately provide power to up to one million people. Large-scale solar projects such as this can provide an array of benefits to nations across the Middle East & Africa. Along with providing reliable electricity access to developing countries, these types of clean technology projects may help mitigate some of the tension and conflict that persists throughout the region.

Rather than utilizing traditional PV technology, the first three projects will use CSP through parabolic mirrors and a trough system to track the sun across the sky during the day. CSP also comes with the benefit of thermal storage, allowing for the prospect of 24/7 solar energy. This will be supported further by the second phase of the project, Noor 2 (200 MW) and Noor 3 (150 MW), set to come online in 2017. The third phase will consist of a PV power station. This complex will be largest CSP plant in the world upon completion, marking a significant milestone as countries in the region begin to adopt solar into their energy portfolios.

Morocco is taking advantage of any opportunities where the Sahara is concerned. The world’s deserts receive enough solar energy in 6 hours to meet the power demands of humanity for an entire year. How to harness and distribute this energy in a cost-effective manner is a significant challenge. Morocco has been able to pursue this project through a mix of political will and falling solar costs. The Moroccan government is choosing to view climate change as an opportunity and ultimately hopes to use the Noor complex as a means to export electricity across the Middle East and Europe. This path toward energy independence is critical in a region where climate security is expected to pose a major problem in the future. Should this project prove successful, it can provide a template for surrounding nations as they begin their forays into solar. According to the University of Oxford Middle East energy expert Justin Dargin, large-scale integration of renewable energy could significantly reduce the budgetary outlays of countries in the Middle East & Africa, allowing increased funding for social services, infrastructure, and more. This reallocation of funds could be used to address some of the socioeconomic demands highlighted during the Arab Spring.

Morocco has set an ambitious target of generating 42% of its electricity using clean energy sources by 2020. Whether fellow countries in the region will follow suit with similar environmental initiatives is yet to be seen, but the Noor complex is a significant step in advancing large-scale solar integration across the region.

 

Hawaii Axes Net Metering as PV Surges

— November 11, 2015

While most utilities are just beginning to adapt to the challenges presented by large-scale solar integration, the state of Hawaii has been at the forefront of this issue for some time. Hawaii is in the midst of a residential solar revolution, and with PV now sitting atop 12% of rooftops in the state, it has the highest PV penetration rate in the nation. While this presents an array of benefits, utilities are also being confronted with increased costs and decreased revenue streams. As these challenges and opportunities continue to grow, Hawaii may present itself as a case study in adaptive solar policy.

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (HPUC) issued a ruling that closed Hawaii Electric Companies’ (HECO) net metering program to new applicants. Current customers and those awaiting approval are still eligible for the program, while new customers will be offered alternatives in the form of a grid-supply or self-supply system. A grid-supply system operates essentially as a discounted net metering rate, while the self-supply system is intended for residences that will consume all of their solar electricity and thus will receive an expedited interconnection review. The HPUC also ruled that HECO companies must pursue a time-of-use (TOU) tariff that would allow for variable electricity pricing. TOU pricing offers advantages to both utilities and consumers alike as it provides a financial incentive for customers to shift their energy consumption patterns, and in turn alleviates pressure on the grid.

Hawaii as a Template

This ruling has received mixed reviews across the industry. While some solar proponents have criticized the decision—including the Hawaii Solar Energy Association—others, such as the Solar Energy Industry Association, have highlighted the uniquely high penetration rate in Hawaii as warranting rate changes. As more homes install PV, utilities are left with a dwindling customer base to support their operations costs. According to HECO, $53 million in operations and maintenance costs were shifted to non-solar consumers in 2014. More of these policy changes should be expected as solar and other renewables move from small-scale toward large-scale integration. Policy incentives that were aimed at kick-starting these industries will likely receive pushback as renewables become more competitive in the marketplace. In the future, Hawaii may become the template for other states as they adapt to a more renewable energy based infrastructure.

 

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