Morocco’s ambitious plan to draw 40 percent of its energy needs from the sun by 2020 received a publicity boost this week as the first solar powered plane to make an intercontinental flight landed in the North African kingdom.
In 2009, Morocco announced a $9 billion project to build five solar energy plants to harness the sun’s rays and produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020.
As Swiss pilot and adventurer Bertrand Piccard stepped out of the air craft dubbed “Solar Impulse” Tuesday following his 20-hour flight from Madrid, he paid tribute to Morocco’s solar ambitions, which include one day exporting electricity to Europe.
Just moments earlier, the Solar Impulse had swept silently out of the darkness to glide onto the runway. Its four battery-powered turbo-props were already still, showing off the aircraft’s ability to fly even when the sun is gone. “It was perhaps the most beautiful flight of my life. I have dreamed since I was a child of flying without using fuel.”
The plane’s 1,554 mile (2,500 kilometer) trip from Switzerland to Morocco was closely followed around Europe and Piccard’s fellow pilot and Solar Impulse partner, Andre Borschberg, said it was an important symbol about what could be done without fossil fuels.
The lavish ceremony showcased the kingdom’s own solar ambitions and its plans to soon announce which international consortium has won the bid to start work on a 160-megawatt solar power plant to be built in the southern city of Ouarzazate.
“With solar energy you can do many things, you can fly a plane from Payerne, Switzerland to Rabat, you can use solar energy for daily activities — it’s no longer just in the realm of science,” said Mustafa Bakkouri, the head of Masen, shortly before the Solar Impulse landed.
Morocco is one of the few countries in the region almost wholly dependent on imports for its energy needs, and it has been hard hit by the soaring oil prices over the last few years.
“Solar Impulse shows that new technology can do what was once thought to be impossible,” Piccard said. “People probably once told Masen it was impossible to develop solar energy on that scale.”