February 4, 2016 / 5:03 PM / in 3 years

Morocco starts production at 160 MW solar plant

RABAT, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Morocco officially launched production at a 160 MW solar plant on Thursday, the first step in a scheme to produce more than half the country’s power needs from green energy by 2030.

Morocco drew up plans in 2009 to build solar plants and wind farms to generate 4 gigawatt (GW) of power by 2020, equal to 38 percent of Morocco’s current installed generation capacity.

But it announced recently it would expand the initiative with the aim of producing 10 GW, or 52 percent of Moroccan needs, from green energy by 2030.

Renewable energy currently covers about 28 percent of Morocco’s installed capacity.

A consortium led by Saudi International Company for Water and Power (ACWA) IPO-ACWA.SE won a 634 million euro ($709 million) contract in 2012 to build a solar power plant near Ouarzazate - called Noor I.

Acwa had priced its offer for the 160 MW plant at 1.62 dirhams ($0.19) per kilowatt/hour to be produced from the plant.

The plant was inaugurated by Morocco’s King Mohammed on Thursday. However, sources familiar with the project told Reuters it has already started production and has been connected to the grid since November.

“The plant has technology allowing eight hours of storage after sunset,” Mustafa Bakkoury, head of the state’s Solar Energy Agency (Masen), said in a televised speech at the ceremony.

The Saudi company also won a 1.7 billion euro contract in 2015 to build two other solar power plants totalling 350 megawatts, Noor II and Noor III, at the same site, the second step in Ouarzazate project.

The king also launched construction of those two power plants on Thursday.

Tenders for the last photovoltaic plant of up to 70 MW in the same area are expected this year, taking Ouarzazate’s capacity to 580 MW, or 2.1 billion euros of investments.

Other complexes are expected in other towns such as the central Midelt and the southern Tata. ($1 = 0.8937 euros) (Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Adrian Croft)

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