The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) has received more than 180 expressions of interest to build a 500MW solar facility in central Ouarzazate.

The selected bidder will design, build, operate, maintain and finance the project. The agency says it will take proposals for facilities using either photovoltaic solar or concentrated solar power.

The large number of responses came as a result of relatively loose definitions of the project in documents released to prospective bidders including the size and nature of the project, says one source close to the scheme.

Firms were invited to express interest at the end of March. They will be prequalified to bid in the third quarter of 2010 while a request for proposals will be issued in the fourth quarter.

The planned site is located in the Tamezghitene area of Morocco, approximately 10 kilometres northeast of the city of Ouarzazate. The project will cover an area of around 3,300 hectares.

The region receives an normal radiation of 7.22 kWh a square metre a day on average, and the Mansour Eddahbi dam is 4km away. This is significant as access to water is important for the running concentrated solar power facilities.

The site is also close to existing 225/60kV high voltage transmission lines. The scheme will comprise several individual facilities, which will be commissioned by early 2015.

The Ouarzazate project was originally led by Morocco’s Office National de l’ Electricite (ONE) as a government-sponsored project, but was then passed to the newly created Masen under the Moroccan law 57/09 and adopted in an independent power project (IPP) structure.

The project is expected to benefit from funds from the World Bank-administered Clean Technology Fund, which earmarked $750 million in December 2009 for the purpose of promoting concentrated solar power plants in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia.

The project is part of Morocco’s ambitious plans to boost its share of renewable energy in the kingdom. The country intends to add 2,000MW wind, 2,000MW hydroelectric and 2,000MW solar to the grid by 2020, which would represent 42 per cent of the total power generation capacity.