Situated even deeper in the desert than Morocco and prone to locust swarms, Mauritania’s topography consists of the “mostly barren, flat plains of the Sahara” – as the CIA puts it. They’ve got very little water and less than half of one percent of the country’s land is arable. But they’ve got sun and they’ve got wind and now they’ve got Africa’s largest solar photovoltaic plant.
Just weeks after launching the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Plant (CSP) in their own backyard, just outside of Abu Dhabi, Masdar announces the official opening of their most recent foreign renewable energy plant. The $31.99 million, 15MW photovoltaic plant accounts for 10 percent of Mauritania’s existing energy capacity and has the potential to offset 21,225 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide every year.
Masdar’s green pastures
Promoting energy self-sufficiency abroad comprises a crucial component of Masdar’s grand plan.
The government-backed company is already building a wind farm in the Seychelles, owns part of the world’s largest wind farm in England, the London Array, and recently confirmed plans to take solar energy to Tonga.
Masdar is also a partial owner of the first solar plant in the world that can produce energy 24 hours a day and seven days a week – the 19.9MW Gemasolar CSP plant in Spain, and that doesn’t even begin to shed light on the numerous green schemes they are cooking up back home.
But arguably none will have as dramatic an impact as this relatively small solar farm in Mauritania.
One PV plant = 10% of the country’s capacity
Currently, the country gets most of its energy from diesel generators. In addition to being loud, dirty, environmentally appalling, and unsightly, generators are expensive to run and vulnerable to vacillating fuel prices.
The new Sheikh Zayed Solar Power Plant in the capital Nouakchott will take Mauritania one step further away from this kind of polluting energy supply with enough renewable energy to power 10,000 homes.
And all 29,826 of the plant’s micromorph thin-film panels are placed in mounts that were driven directly into the ground, instead of a concrete platform, in a unique effort to reduce the project’s overall carbon footprint.
“Energy access is a pathway to economic and social opportunity,” said Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz during the inauguration of the solar plant. “Electrification, through sustainable sources of energy, is critical in ensuring our people have access to basic services and is a step toward improving our infrastructure and long-term economic development.”
Mauritania has diamonds, gold and some oil, in addition to a few other natural resources, but their potential for solar and wind energy is likely to draw the most attention in coming decades. Their wind energy potential alone is four times greater than the entire country’s current demand, which is expected to rise by 12 percent a year, according to Masdar.
“Renewable energy has the potential to be a major contributor to the energy mix in developing countries where access to conventional energy is limited,” said Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar.
“With energy demand expected to nearly double by 2030, renewable energy will play an increasingly important role, especially in countries where demand is rapidly outstripping supply.”
The big projects are exciting, and Masdar has enough of those under its umbrella, but these small plants are essential too. Like the tortoise that wins the race in western folklore, 10 megawatts here and 15 megawatts there add up by slowly chipping away at our dependence on fossil fuels.
Images by Clement Tardif