The first section of the mammoth Ouarzazate concentrated solar power (CSP) plant – which will be the world’s largest solar thermal facility once completed – has been switched on in Morocco following several months of delay.

The 160 MW facility, known as Noor 1, commenced delivering power to the grid on 4 February, according to reports.

Phase two of the project (comprising Noor 2 and 3) is expected to be completed by 2018, and will take the total capacity to more than 500 MW.

Once completed, the Ouarzazate project will cover an area of 25 square kilometres, about the same as Sydney’s inner city.

According to the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which partly funded the project, the completed facility will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccan households, while lowering carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year.

The Noor 1 CSP plant consists of 500,000 parabolic mirrors, each 12 metres high, which focus solar energy onto a steel pipeline carrying synthetic thermal oil solution. The super-heated solution is piped to an engine where it is mixed with water to create steam that in turn drives electricity turbines.

A heat tank containing molten sands also allows the facility to store solar energy for up to three hours. The Noor 2 and 3 plants will increase the storage capacity to up to eight hours.

Altogether, the project is expected to cost US$9 billion.