Morocco Starts Vast Solar Energy Project

Unlike most of its North African neighbours Morocco has negligible gas and oil reserves to exploit. It does however have a near perfect geographical location and climate for solar power.

This month work started on the first of a series of huge solar power plant construction projects which by 2020 will have a generation capacity of 500 Megawatts and cover 3000 hectares. Located by the desert city of Ouarzazate 200km drive from Marrakesh, this concentrated solar power (CSP) plant will eventually meet the electricity needs of the city’s 1.5 million residents.

Ouarzazate morocco CSP solar power plant

Phase one is a 160 MW solar power plant to be built by a consortium led by Saudi company ACWA Power. The contract for the second phase will be awarded later this year which will raise total capacity up to the targetted 500 MW.

Morocco are planning to construct five such solar power plants over the next 10 years giving it a generation capacity of 2000 MW at a cost of around US$9 billion. Funding will come from The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Morocco are aiming to generate over 40% of the country’s total power needs from renewable energy sources by 2020, with additional plans for huge investment in wind farms along their windy Atlantic coastline to mix with the solar to give it renewable electricity generation night and day.

If these projects are all completed and others are developed, it is likely that Morocco will look to export clean electricity to their European neighbours, a model likely to be repeated across North Africa and something we looked at back in 2008 in our article Solar Power for Europe from the Sahara.

EU to Impose High Import Duties on Chinese Made Solar Panels

In our article Are Prices of Solar Panels Going to Fall or Rise we looked at how Chinese-made PV solar panels have been flooding the European market driving prices down. Over the last few years, Chinese manufacturers have snapped up 80% of the $30bn+ annual European market for solar products.

The European Commission, interested in protecting German and other struggling European solar panel manufacturers, has been looking into this and are considering levying punitive tariffs on solar panel imports from China to stop Chinese manufacturers dumping their government subsidised panels in the European market at unfair prices.

Chinese made PV panels are currently almost half the price of European made panels and so the import duty is likely to be set at from 40-50% bringing Chinese and European panel prices in line with each other, and therefore increasing the price of solar products to the consumer considerably.

Provisional levies could come into force on 6th June 2013 before negotiations with Beijing on a long term levy structure. The USA put import duties on Chinese solar energy products back in 2012 to protect their market from oversupply.

Solar Cell Coating Could Improve Efficiency by 6%

The journal Science had details today of research into a special coating for photovoltaic solar cells which could potentially increase the percentage of solar energy which is converted into electricity by 6%.

Solar panels do not convert all wavelengths of light into electricity – photons of light from the blue (higher energy) end of the spectrum are converted into heat if they are not reflected from the solar panel which a) means that that solar energy is wasted, and b) means that the solar panel gets hotter, which as our article (Effect of Temperature on Solar Panels) showed, reduces efficiency.


Since the 1960’s it has been known that a material called pantacene (an organic semiconductor pictured above) has an interesting property. When a photon of light from the blue end of the spectrum hits pantacene, TWO electrons are generated. When a photon of light from the red end of the spectrum hits a normal solar cell, ONE electron is generated. Therefore by making a solar cell with a coating of pantacene, light from the whole visible spectrum can be exploited and the efficiency of the hybrid solar cell will be higher than the simple silicon solar panels currently available.

This is still very much in the prototype phase with many years of research still to come before it could become commercial. Pantacene though abundant, carbon-based, and organic, is currently expensive and technology has to be developed to enable the economical manufacture of hybrid solar panels.

80 Watt 12V Monocrystalline PV Solar Panel – £69.98 inc Delivery!

Special offer of the week has to be these 80 Watt power monocrystalline PV Solar Panels offered as a pre-order item (to be despatched after 17th April 2013).

80 Watt Solar Panel - Special Offer

The panel, pictured above, has an anodised aluminium frame, 3.2mm tempered glass, and is 824 x 669 x 35mm and just 8kg. Best of all is the price – £64.99 plus £4.99. It comes fitted with standard MC4 terminated cables. It is fully weatherproof for outdoor use.

Click here for more information or to snap up one or more of these panels now: 80 Watt 12V PV Solar Panel.

New Solar Cell Efficiency Record – Spectrolab

Back in 2007 we announced that Spectrolab (a subsidiary of plane-maker Boeing) has set a new world record for solar cell efficiency at 40% with a multi junction solar cell with concentrated sunlight (with lenses or mirrors). That record was subsequently broken, but is still around 41%.

Now Spectrolab have announced that they have broken the world record for solar cell efficiency without solar concentration achieving 37.8% efficiency, and they believe that the technology they used to achieve this is capable of getting to efficiencies of eventually getting up to 45%.

high efficiency pv solar panels

Spectrolab specialise in making high efficiency multi-junction PV solar panels for use in space to provide power to satellites, but their technological advances will eventually work their way down to the consumer market. Increasing the efficiency of solar panels is important, because high efficiency means physically smaller panels which need less materials, cost less to transport, and can be used in more situations.

Are Prices of Solar Panels Going to Stop Falling or Even Rise?

The prices of photovoltaic solar panels (PV) have been falling consistently for years, and particularly for the last couple of years. The success of generous feed in tariffs in Germany first and subsequently in the UK amongst other countries greatly increased the demand for PV solar panels, demand which was rapidly met by new Chinese manufacturers.

Suntech solar panels

Thanks to large government subsidies solar panel manufacturing boomed in China with companies such as Yingli and Suntech selling more and more PV panels at lower and lower prices grabbing well over three-quarters of the world solar market. Panel prices are now a quarter what they were in 2007/8. Global manufacturing capacity is now over 60 Gigawatts per year, but demand in 2013 is predicted to be half that at just 25-30 Gigawatts.

Subsidised over-production resulted in panels effectively being sold at a loss and now many of China’s 500+ solar module manufacturers are deep in debt and facing bankruptcy with no sign of a bail out from the government. It is likely that there will be many business closures, consolidation, and reductions in supply in the coming months and years as the market adjusts itself.

At the same time commercialisation of new technologies which offer more efficient solar panels which can be made more efficiently, more cheaply (with future economies of scale) and with less damage to the environment has been delayed because consumers’ demand has been met with the (unsustainably) cheap conventional silicon PV modules.

Even with the latest manufacturing processes, cheap labour, and government subsidies, existing technology solar PV is still more expensive than fossil fuels. Until there is commercialisation of more advanced solar PV technology we will not see PV compete on a level playing field (i.e. without subsidies) and beat fossil fuels on price.

GE thin film photovoltaic solar panels

Therefore although in the short term we can expect solar module prices to level or even rise a little, this will finally open the door to the commercialisation of new technologies currently waiting in the wings (e.g. thin-filmsolar panels) which in the medium/long term will finally give us economically sustainably low-priced fossil fuel beating panels.

Project of the Day – Dawn / Dusk Raspberry Pi Switch on Device

Pictured below is a device designed to switch on a Raspberry Pi for a user programmable number of minutes at dawn and dusk as detected by a light detector. Under normal circumstances the Raspberry Pi itself could be used to detected day and night, but although the Pi is a very very low powered computer (2.5 Watts), that is a relatively large amount of power if it is to be on continuously 24 hours per day powered by a solar charged battery, as was our customer’s requirement.

dawn and dusk detecting controller to power a Raspberry Pi

Instead of leaving the Raspberry Pi running continuously, this intermediate controller circuit supplies power to the Pi only when required, and draws only a few milliAmps of current rather than hundreds of milliAmps of the Raspberry Pi.

The controller circuit we have built is based around a Picaxe-08M2 microcontroller. The user can set the light level threshold at which dawn and dusk are detected (using similar logic to that successfully used in our dawn dusk relay controller), and the number of minutes that the Raspberry Pi is to be powered at dawn and at dusk.

A MOSFET is used to supply a 12V output at dawn and dusk which passes through the 5V from 12V regulator pictured below to supply the required 5 Volts DC to the Raspberry Pi.


Normally we would fit voltage regulation directly on our circuit board, but it is not possible to buy even half the components on this ready made 3 Amp rated 90% efficient 3.3V / 5V from 12V regulator (priced at £1.12 including delivery) so we used that. We just soldered 12V+, 12V-, and 5V+ leads to the regulator, and screw-in connectors on the output side of our controller to hook it up. A couple of terminals on our board then supply the regulated 5V voltage to the Raspberry Pi at dawn and dusk.

This will be put to use in a hen house door controller. The Raspberry Pi, extended with a Gertboard attached to the GPIO interface will be used to control a motor which will open/close a horizontally sliding door. Microswitches will be used to detect when the door is fully open/closed, and the Raspberry Pi will give feedback to the user by sending him an email. A camera may also be added to the setup in the future.

Largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant in the World – Shams 1

The world’s largest concentrated solar power plant started operation on Sunday 17th March 2013.  Costing US$600 million to build, Shams I is located in the desert in the west of Abu Dhabi. The 100 Megawatt power plant will supply electricity to more than 20,000 homes in the United Arab Emirates.


100MW Solar Power Plant – Shams I

Covering 2.5 square kilometres, Shams I is an array of 768 solar tracking mirrored parabolic troughs which concentrate the sun’s energy onto a pipe running through the troughs through which oil is pumped. This solar heated oil then passes through a heat exchanger generating steam which drives an electricity generating turbine. More than 250,000 mirrors were used in the construction of the parabolic solar collectors.


Shams I – 768 tracking parabolic solar concentrators

Shams I has a dry-cooling system which greatly reduces the amount of water this power plant will use – a vital feature considering its arid desert location. Dry-cooling uses the air to condense exhaust vapour from the steam turbine instead of water. Water cooling is cheaper where possible/practical, but the best geographical locations for solar generation unfortunately tend to be very dry places. It is approximately 5% more expensive to build a concentrated solar power plant with dry-cooling, and the electricity generated will be 10% more expensive than from a water cooled power plant.

At US$600,000,000 for 100,000,000 Watts of installed power, it sounds quite expensive – US$6 per Watt, but perhaps it was all of the associated infrastructure which added to the cost rather than the choice of solar concentrator technology over simple solar photovoltaic technology.

Comparing the costs of this solar concentrating power plant with solar photovoltaic power plants of equivalent size, the Rovigo PV Power Plant in NE Italy cost 276 million Euro for 72MW of installed PV capacity when it was built in 2010 becoming briefly the World’s largest PV power plant (US$5 per Watt), but since then the much larger 145MW Neuhardenberg Solar Park in Germany was constructed for US$365 million, or just US$2.50 per Watt.