With over 300 days of sunshine per year, Ain Beni Mathar in Morocco, near the border with Algeria, was the perfect site to build a thermal and solar hybrid plant.
The first of its kind in Africa, Ain Beni Mathar is a real opportunity for Morocco to explore alternative sources.
The country suffers greatly from its energy dependence, importing 97% of its coal and oil energy needs.
The National Office of Energy and the African Development Bank have opened the doors of the plant to euronews. On a guided tour, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Nour Eddine Fetian told us: “The principle is that the plant consists of two lines, two gas turbines, two heat recovery steam generators, one steam turbine and lines for production and energy discharge. So steam is produced by two sources: there is natural gas, under the normal combined cycle, and the steam produced by the solar field. Both vapours converge towards the steam turbine and are integrated at the same time to produce electric power.
The total output of the power plant is 472 megawatts, 20MW of which is solar, allowing it to satisfy about 10% of the country’s energy demand. Ain Beni Mathar is supplied with natural gas by the Maghreb / Europe pipeline.
Fetian Nour Eddine, the director of the Beni Mathar power plant also spoke about the intelligent energy recovery system: “So the combined cycle recovers energy from the exhaust gases to produce steam. Basically, after bring emitted, the exhaust gas enters a recovery boiler. The boiler is fueled by water and produces steam through heat exchangers. This steam then reaches certain parameters of temperature and pressure to enter the steam turbine, where it converges with the steam produced by the solar field to power the turbine and produce electrical energy through this mechanism.”
The plant uses an innovative cooling system. The giant fans are air-cooled condensers. They reduce water consumption by 5.3 million cubic metres per year and from at least one million cubic metres per year, there’ll be an 80% saving of water.
The plant’s director also explained how the cooling system works: “Since it operates in a closed cycle, the steam powering the turbine must condense. And so we need a cooling system. The system used in this plant is a dry cooling system, which minimises water consumption. So in effect, it becomes an air-water exchanger. Through the fans it draws in fresh air and is injected into a heat exchanger to condense the steam, recycle the water and resume the cycle early. But most importantly, it reduces water consumption by a very significant margin.”
The solar array occupies 88,160 hectares of the site: the 3688 cylindrical and parabolic panels follow the sun’s path. The site is a testing ground for Morocco. A 100% solar plant with a capacity of 2GW (giga watt) will soon come to Ouarzazate.
Fetian Nour Eddine, director of the Beni Mathar ISCC power plant said: “Here we have this parabolic format, which allows the dish to track the exact position of the sun to maximise the radiation. It quickly reflects the rays back toward the collector. This is where you find a special tube that circulates the oil. The oil recovers the maximum recovered energy of solar radiation and then transfers that heat to the recovery boiler.”
The plant meets strict environmental standards – allowing Morocco to save 12,000 tons of fuel oil per year. To halt its energy dependence, Morocco has implemented plans to produce 40% of renewable energy by 2020.