Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – One advantage of solar and wind as renewable sources of energy is that they appear to be especially resilient in the face of natural disasters. A paradox of the battle against human-caused climate change is that some of our best tools, such as low-carbon hydroelectric power, are also the most vulnerable to the very alterations we are attempting to curb. The mega-drought in the US southwest endangered electricity production by the Hoover Dam, for instance. In Europe, rivers now get too hot at some points in the summer for their water to cool nuclear plants, which have to be shut down. In other instances, nuclear plants have to be sited near bodies of water that are rapidly rising and threatening Fukushima-style inundations and melt-downs of nuclear plants.
No substantial damage to a modern wind turbine by an earthquake has been recorded since 1986.
Ouarzazate, Morocco, on the edge of the Sahara, is the site of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, which has a capacity of 580 megawatts, the equivalent of a small nuclear plant. The massive 6.8 earthquake that shook Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the Atlas Mountain region on September 8, killing nearly 3,000 people, did only minor damage to the solar complex and so the lights stayed on.
The Moroccan Ministry of Energy “clarified that the damage was confined to certain equipment at the Noor plant, emphasizing that these issues were swiftly repaired, and confirmed that all energy installations are operating normally.”
Moreover, donated portable solar power stations along with 400-watt solar panels helped keep essential services such as hospitals and clinics in operation in the Atlas Mountain villages hit by the quake. The Red Cross is encouraging such donations, seeing solar panels and power stations as much safer than trying to cook with portable natural gas cannisters.
Morocco gets about 38% of its electricity from renewables, and hopes get the percentage to 52% by 2030. It is probably the Middle Eastern country that has so far done the most to adopt wind and solar. It is considered on track in its energy transformation to do its part in keeping global warming to under 1.5C, which is necessary to avoid the risk of the planet’s climate systems going chaotic.
Morocco has few fossil fuels of its own and must import them at a relatively high cost. However, planners do continue to depend on coal and natural gas and some of the earlier green momentum has been lost.
There have been delays with some planned major solar farms, but the government hopes these will come on line by 2025.
There are also plans to produce green, i.e., low-carbon hydrogen.
Because of its abundant sunshine, Morocco is an obvious site for producing solar power, and its wind resources are also extensive. There is even now a plan to bring renewable energy generated in Morocco to the UK by underwater cable, at a cost of $21 billion.