Morocco will have 52% of its energy supply through clean sources by 2030.

Morocco: The sky’s the limit

The kingdom of Morocco is leading the energy transition in North Africa. It is emerging as the one of the world’s largest solar power producers and claims it will have 52% of its energy supply through clean sources by 2030. Is this target achievable? Let’s find out.

Text: Payal Bhattar Photo: iStock

Seven years ago, the King of Morocco announced the launch of a mega solar plan in the kingdom. That move was expected to steer the national energy policy of the country in favor of renewables. This was a tall order for a country, which is the only place in North Africa with no fossil-fuel reserves for power generation.

This was a country that imported more than 90% of its energy demand, which was growing between 5-7% annually.

The mega solar plan, like Morocco itself, seemed picture perfect.  It would help reduce the country’s dependence on energy imports and it’s ballooning trade deficit and help it control climate change due to high CO2 emissions.

The big question was whether the plan would really see the light of day, considering that the country had no expertise and technical know-how in the field at the time.

These doubts were to put to rest last year when Morocco inaugurated the first phase of the world’s largest concentrated solar plant, Noor Solar Complex in Ouarzazate. The 160 MW plant is a small part of a USD 9 billion multi-phased project, which will be completed by 2018.  Noor Solar Complex is expected to generate 580 MW of power and it is said that it will be as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat.

“It can be said that the solar plan constitutes for King Mohammed VI what the hydraulic plan has constituted for his father King Hassan II in the 1960s. This has given more credibility to the program,” says Driss Zelji, Former President of the Moroccan Society of Renewable Energy Development (SMADER) and Professor at ENSA Kenitra.

Tilting the balance of power

This top-down approach and technical, economic and political will have powered Morocco to march ahead with its renewables plans. It has a target to raise renewables from 34% of installed capacity in 2015 to 43% of installed capacity by 2020 and 52% of installed capacity by 2030.  By 2020, Morocco will generate 2000 MW each through its solar, wind and hydro energy programs spread across Ouarzazate , Ain Beni Mahtar, Laayoune, Boujdour and Tarfaya, Midelt, Tiskrad, Tangier, Jbel Lahdid, and Boujdour.

Morocco will also expand its overall energy capacity of 8.26 GW by 1.7 times to 14 GW by 2020 and by 3 times to 25 GW by 2030. To achieve these targets it is also investing in new coal plants, new gas power projects and new interconnections with Spain, Portugal, Algeria & Mauritania.

This is a big opportunity for global energy companies like Wärtsilä that are looking to expand their presence in Morocco. Wärtsilä has implemented, maintained and supported five EPC projects of a total 160 MW with Energy Utility major ONEE.

Jérôme Jouaville, Business Development Manager - Africa, Wärtsilä Energy Solutions says, “We are especially looking at the new gas to power project (bringing LNG as an alternative fuel by building a large LNG terminal) that will include 2400 MW of additional capacity of gas plants to enable the integration of renewables in the country.”

To tilt the balance of power in its favor, Morocco is ensuring that there is sufficient support for its transition to renewables.  It is laying equal emphasis on a social and cultural switch in favor of clean and green energy.  For instance, last year, nearly 100 mosques in the region went green by installing LED lighting, solar thermal water heaters and photovoltaic systems. The target is to create more awareness and have green energy in over 600 mosques by 2019.

The heart of the matter

As Morocco races ahead to reduce its dependence on imports, a large part of its energy security hinges on how well the renewables story plays out. Experts believe that the optimism about a smooth transition may be overstated.

Zelji points out that “In all transitions, humanity has never substituted an energy source with another; we have always experienced an energy mix that became larger and larger.”

It is estimated that even if Morocco meets its target of having more than half of the energy supply from renewables by 2030, it may correspond to just 25 – 40% of electricity, given the low capacity factor of renewables plants in comparison with conventional ones.

“The challenge is to find solutions to increase the percentage of generated electricity from renewables without compromising the grid and the security of the supply”, says Jérôme Jouaville.

Despite these challenges, investors are backing Morocco’s ambitious plans. Over the last 2 years it has seen investments in renewables touch a whopping USD 1.8 billion, from almost no investments in 2014.  According to a report by Ernst & Young (EY), Morocco is now amongst the world’s top 15 most attractive renewables-oriented investment destinations.

As it aggressively moves ahead to meet its climate pledge, the COP22 host, Morocco is changing the landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa. For now, it does seem like the sky is quite literally the limit.  

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