Bankers met recently to give the go ahead for $336 million of funding for a massive solar project in the Moroccan desert, which the consortium behind it claim could one day supply power to all of North Africa and part of Europe.

The Boards of Directors of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) met in the Tunisian capital Tunis to approve the funding for a solar-thermal power plant near to Ouarzazate.

The money will go towards the first phase of the project, which will see the construction of a solar installation with a capacity of 160 megawatts. Desertec, as the project is known, will then be expanded so that by 2015 the plant will generate a total of 500 megawatts (MW).

However, with an estimated cost of around $1.25 billion the AfDB loan will be a long way off paying for the entire project. The project will be jointly financed by six other agencies including the World Bank, European Investment Bank, Agence Française de développement, German Development Bank (KfW), Neighbourhood Investment Facility, as well as some Moroccan institutions.

The AfDB statement said the power plant would “pioneer the development of concentrated solar power technology,” or CSP. The CSP will be arrayed in parabolic trough mirrors around a central tower filled with fluid material, to generate 160MW in the first phase. The project will become one of the largest solar power projects in the world at full expansion.

A consortium of companies and organizations called Dii is promoting Desertec. According to climate scientist Ernst Rauch of Munich Re, a German reinsurer which is part of the consortium, the project has ambitions well beyond even the 500 MW of the second phase.

Reuters reported that Rauch told a German newspaper that the plant would ultimately grow to 500 MW, but even at that would be just a small piece of Desertec’s planned puzzle: It aims to supply nearly 100 percent of power demand in the Middle East and North African countries, as well as 15 percent of Europe’s energy, by 2050.

These rather incredible claims may not of course reflect the views of Rauch’s consortium partners. Even so, the intense sunlight of the Sahara desert, where the project will be sited will certainly allow for increased capture of solar energy.

“In North Africa and the Middle East the average solar radiation is twice as high as in central Europe,” backers say on the Dii site.

The Ouarzazate plant is the first stage in the Morocco’s $9 billion national Solar Power Plan. Launched two years ago by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), the ambitious plan aims to deploy 2000MW of solar power generation capacity across the kingdom by 2020.

“The Ouarzazate first phase is a key milestone for the success of the Moroccan solar program. While answering both energy and environmental concerns, it will pave the way for the implementation of the regional initiatives sharing the same vision,” MASEN President Mustapha Bakkoury said in a statement.