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Morocco turns on what will become the world’s largest solar power plant

Fadel Senna/Getty Images

Morocco has turned on its massive solar power plant in the town of Ourrzazate, on the edge of the Saharan desert. The plant already spans thousands of acres and is capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power. It's already one of the biggest solar power grids in the world, capable of being seen from space. And it's only going to get bigger.

The current grid, called Noor I, is just the first phase of a planned project to bring renewable energy to millions living in Morocco. It will soon be followed by expansions, Noor II and Noor III, that will add even more mirrors to the existing plant. Once the project is complete around 2018, the entire grid will cover 6,000 acres. It will be capable of generating up to 580 megawatts of power, comparable to that of a small nuclear reactor.

It's just the first phase of a planned project to bring renewable energy to millions

Right now, the solar farm is made up of 500,000 curved mirrors, each standing at about 40 feet tall. These mirrors concentrate the sun's light onto a pipeline filled with fluid, heating it up to 739 degrees Fahrenheit. This fluid is used to heat up a nearby source of water, which turns to steam and spins turbines to create energy. Morocco gets about 3,000 hours of sunlight per year, so there will be plenty of solar energy to harness. But the plant can also keep generating power at night. "The heat from the fluid can be stored in a tank of molten salts," NASA writes.

Currently, Noor I can provide solar power to 650,000 locals from dawn until three hours past sunset, according to The Guardian. The finished plant will provide power for 20 hours a day. It's all part of Morocco's plan to get up to 42 percent of its power from renewable energies at home, such as solar, wind, and hydropower. Right now, the country is dependent on imports for 97 percent of its energy consumption. The new plant could lessen that dependence while saving Morocco millions of tons in carbon emissions.

A view of Noor I from space. (NASA)