Uma usina solar no deserto no Marrocos pretende abastecer a Europa

Em uma região onde a terra é seca e cheia de rachaduras, o lugar quase não tem água, virou o lar de uma das maiores usinas solares do mundo, e está localizada no deserto de Marrocos. Centenas de espelhos cruzados, cada um deles maior que um ônibus, estão enfileirados cobrindo 1,4 km² de deserto, uma área do tamanho de 200 campos de futebol.

O enorme complexo está em um local ensolarado ao pé da cordilheira do Atlas, a 10 km de Ouarzazate, uma cidade cujo apelido significa “porta do deserto”. Com cerca de 330 dias de sol por ano, é o lugar ideal.

Além de suprir as demandas domésticas de energia, o Marrocos espera um dia poder exportar energia solar para a Europa. Essa usina tem o potencial para ajudar a definir o futuro energético da África e do mundo.

No dia da visita da reportagem da BBC, porém, o céu estava coberto de nuvens. “Nenhuma eletricidade será produzida hoje”, disse Rachid Bayed, da Agência Marroquina de Energia Solar (Masen, na sigla em inglês), responsável por implementar o projeto.

Um dia de “folga” não os preocupa. Atualmente, a energia solar está sendo adotada por vários países que passaram a vê-la como a mais abundante fonte de energia limpa.

Essa usina marroquina é apenas uma entre várias outras na África, e outras parecidas estão sendo construídas no Oriente Médio, na Jordânia, nos Emirados Árabes Unidos e na Arábia Saudita. O custo cada vez menor da energia solar a tornou uma alternativa viável mesmo nas regiões mais ricas em petróleo do mundo.

Noor 1, a primeira fase da usina marroquina, já ultrapassou expectativas em termos de quantidade de energia produzida. É um resultado encorajador para o objetivo do Marrocos de reduzir a produção de combustíveis fósseis ao focar em energias renováveis e ainda assim atender às necessidades domésticas, que crescem em 7% todos os anos.

A estabilidade do governo e da economia do Marrocos ajudou o país a conseguir investimento da União Europeia, que financiou 60% dos custos do projeto Ouarzazate.

O país planeja gerar 14% de sua energia através do sol até 2020 e acrescentar outras fontes renováveis como vento e água ao plano com o objetivo de produzir 52% de sua própria energia até 2030.

Isso torna o Marrocos mais ou menos alinhado com países como o Reino Unido, que quer gerar 30% de sua eletricidade através de energias renováveis até o fim da década, e os Estados Unidos, onde o ex-presidente Barack Obama havia determinado índice de 20% até 2030.

Donald Trump ameaçou cortar o financiamento às energias renováveis, mas talvez suas ações não tenham grande impacto, já que muitas políticas são controladas por Estados e que grandes companhias já começaram a adotar fontes mais limpas e baratas.

Os refletores da usina geralmente podem ser ouvidos enquanto eles se movem para seguir o sol como um campo gigantesco de girassóis. Os espelhos filtram a energia do sol e esquenta um óleo sintético que segue por uma rede de canos.

As temperaturas podem chegar a 350 ºC e o óleo quente é usado para produzir vapores de água em alta temperatura, alimentando um gerador movido a turbinas. “É o mesmo processo dos combustíveis fósseis, só que usamos o calor do sol como fonte”, diz Bayed.

A usina continua gerando energia mesmo após o pôr do sol, quando a demanda chega ao pico. Parte dessa energia é guardada em reservatórios feitos de nitrato de sódio e potássio, o que mantém a produção por até mais três horas. Na próxima fase da usina, a produção continuará por até oito horas após o sol se pôr.

Além de aumentar a produção de energia do Marrocos, o projeto Ouarzazate está ajudando a economia local. Cerca de 2 mil funcionários foram contratados durante os dois anos iniciais da construção, sendo que muitos deles são marroquinos.

Estradas foram construídas para criar acesso à planta e conectá-la às cidades mais próximas, ajudando as crianças a chegar até a escola. Além disso, uma grande quantidade de água foi levada ao complexo através de encanamentos, dando acesso a água para mais 33 vilarejos.

Masen também ensinou práticas sustentáveis a fazendeiros da área. No pequeno vilarejo de Asseghmou, a 48 km da cidade de Ouarzazate, a forma como ovelhas são criadas mudou.

A maioria dos fazendeiros ali dependiam apenas de sua experiência, mas agora estão entrando em contato com técnicas mais confiáveis, como simplesmente separar os animais em suas gaiolas, o que está aumentando a produtividade.

A Masen também doou ovelhas para criação a 25 fazendas. “Agora eu tenho mais segurança nos alimentos”, diz Chaoui, dono de uma fazenda local. E sua amendoeira está prosperando graças às dicas de cultivo.

Ainda assim, alguns locais se preocupam com a usina. Abdellatif, que viva na cidade de Zagora, 120 quilômetros ao sul dali, onde há taxas mais altas de desemprego, acha que Masen deveria se concentrar em criar empregos permanentes.

Ele tem amigos que foram contratados para trabalhar lá, mas apenas por alguns meses. Uma vez que entrar em operação total, a usina empregará entre 50 e 100 funcionários, apenas. “Os componentes da usina são feitos no exterior, mas seria melhor produzi-los aqui para gerar trabalho contínuo para os moradores locais”, diz.

Um problema maior é a enorme quantidade de água que a usina utiliza da represa de El Mansour Eddahbi. Nos últimos anos, a escassez de água tem sido um problema na região semidesértica e houve cortes no fornecimento.

A agricultura ao sul do Vale Draa depende da água da represa -ocasionalmente despejada no rio local, que geralmente é seco. O coordenador da usina, Mustapha Sellam, diz que a água usada pelo complexo representa 0,05% do abastecimento, pouco comparado à sua capacidade.

Ainda assim, o consumo da usina é o bastante para fazer uma diferença na vida dos fazendeiros locais, que já enfrentam dificuldades. É por isso que a usina está tentando reduzir a quantidade de água que consome, utilizando ar pressurizado para limpar os espelhos.

Além disso, a água usada para resfriar o vapor produzido pelos geradores é reutilizada para produzir mais eletricidade.

Há novas sessões da usina em construção no momento. A Noor 2 será parecida com a 1, mas a 3 terá um design diferente. Em vez de espelhos enfileirados, ela vai capturar e guardar a energia solar através de uma torre única, que acredita-se ser mais eficiente.

Sete milhares de espelhos retos serão dispostos ao redor da torre para capturar e refletir os raios de sol em direção a um capturador no topo dela, usando menos espaço do que as filas de espelhos exigem hoje. Sais derretidos no interior da torre vão capturar e armazenar o calor diretamente, sem a necessidade do óleo quente.

Sistemas parecidos já estão em uso na África do Sul, na Espanha e em alguns lugares nos Estados Unidos, como no deserto Mojave, na Califórnia, e em Nevada. Mas, com uma altura de 26 metros, a estrutura de Ouarzazate será a mais alta do tipo no mundo inteiro.

Outras usinas similares estão em construção no Marrocos. O sucesso dessas usinas no Marrocos e na África do Sul podem incentivar outros países africanos a adotar a energia solar.

A África do Sul já entrou na lista dos dez maiores produtores de energia solar do mundo, e Ruanda tem a primeira usina do tipo no leste africano, criada em 2014. Há também planos de construção de usinas solares em Gana e Uganda.

O sol da África pode um dia transformar o continente em um exportador de energia para o resto do mundo. Ao menos Sellam tem grandes expectativas em relação a Noor. “Nosso principal objetivo é a independência energética, mas, se um dia estivermos produzindo a mais, podemos suprir outros países”, diz.

 

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