Morocco is building on the edge of the Sahara Desert what would be the world’s largest solar power plant by 2018.

Last Thursday, its King Mohammed VI switched on the first phase of the concentrated solar energy plant, which will be the size of the capital city by the time of its completion and will provide electricity to 1.1 million individuals. The king also laid the foundations for the second phase.

The Moroccan plant, called Noor 1, is situated at the town of Ouarzazate and offers 160 megawatts of the projected 580-MW capacity. The project is aimed at slashing hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

Maha el-Kadiri, spokesperson for the Moroccan renewable energy agency, said the first phase had been targeted to open by December but was delayed due to certain “agenda concerns.”

The first-phase plant will provide solar power to 650,000 locals from dawn to three hours following sunset.

A Saudi Arabia-led consortium built the solar plant – which currently uses 500,000 mirrors scattered over an area equivalent to about 600 football fields – with funding from agencies such as the World Bank, European Investment Bank, and African Development Bank.

Climate Investment Funds (CIF) provided $435 million of the $9 billion total project funding. Its manager Mafalda Duarte deemed it a highly significant venture in Africa.

“Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process,” Duarte said.

The North African nation, which will host the next United Nations climate change conference in November, aims to generate 42 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It even more ambitious plan in the pipeline is to obtain 52 percent from renewable sources by 2030.

The energy from the solar plant will not only serve local demand but will also be eventually exported to Europe as well as Mecca.

CIF also estimated that if governments and international banking institutions deploy another 5 gigawatts of solar power, costs of electricity production could dip by 14 percent. Raising that to up to 15GW would reduce costs by 44 percent.

Noor’s next two phases will open later in 2016.

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