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Is Morocco Becoming a Solar Superpower?

morocco economy energy noor new solar plant
The new solar multiple power station plant, called Noor (light), which will supply electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans by 2018, as planned. Source: http://www.csp-world.com/

Blessed by 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Morocco boasts one of the highest rates of insolation in the world, and the country is serious about using it. It is building, in the Saharan province of Ouarzazate, what may be the world’s largest concentrated solar multiple power station plant, called Noor (light). The plant is expected to supply electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans by 2018, according to the World Bank. Launched by King Mohammed VI in 2013 and funded mainly by the World Bank, the European Union, and the African Development Bank, this huge project will construct five solar power stations by 2019 and will cost $9 billion. The project is led by the Moroccan public-private consortium, the Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) and is already propelling Morocco to the forefront of solar-energy-producing countries.

According to the World Bank, which co-sponsored the project, Noor “will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding the emission of 240,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year over a 25-year period.” According to Hakima El-Haiti, Minister of Energy and Environment, the plant will generate renewable electricity that will supply the needs of half of the Moroccan population by 2020, thus constituting one-third of the country’s renewable-energy supply by that date, with wind and hydro each accounting for another third.

This is a welcome initiative in a country that has no oil and that imports almost 97 percent of its energy, as of 2013. “We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget,” Morocco’s environment minister told the Guardian.

Morocco’s solar-energy project will help the country reduce its current energy dependence, and it will enhance Morocco’s solar-energy capacity, as the demand for electric energy grows at an annual rate of six to eight per cent. By generating an energy surplus for export, the plant will increase the country’s export revenues. Up to now, Morocco has depended heavily on imported fossil fuels, which provide over 97 percent of its energy. The solar-energy plant will make the country less susceptible to fluctuating world prices of energy.

The increase in the demand for solar energy is a consequence of the growing concern for the preservation of the environment and the fluctuation of oil prices. The solar project will provide 18 per cent of Morocco’s annual electricity generation. This will give Morocco a head start at a time when other regional powers are beginning to think more seriously about their own renewable-energy programs.

Morocco’s new project is important for two other reasons: it will mitigate climate change, and it will help reduce the development gap between urban and rural areas. As a clean-energy plant, it should reduce carbon emissions by 700,000 tons per year. The Moroccan project will use a sophisticated technology called “concentrating solar power” (CSP). Although more expensive that the widely used photovoltaic panels, it has the benefit of supplying power even on cloudy days and at night. The sun’s light is focused by mirrors and heats up substances mixed with water and reaches a temperature near 400°C. This produces steam, which drives a turbine to generate electrical power.

The new project will have a positive impact on the lives of Moroccans, especially inhabitants of rural areas, many of whom still lack electricity. In rural regions where electricity is provided, the supply is often unreliable and irregular, creating daily obstacles for tens of thousands of people, ranging from flickering lights to malfunctioning hospital equipment.

The serious lack of electrical power in rural areas of Morocco will be addressed successfully with enough diverse clean energy that plant is expected to provide by 2020 (42%).  By addressing national needs, especially in the poorer rural areas, Morocco’s new solar-energy project will help develop local industry, create jobs, and boost research in the field.

For decades, rural areas in Morocco have suffered successive droughts that have led to poverty and migration to urban areas in the search for jobs. The solar energy program is expected to improve this situation, thus helping to reduce the huge gap between urban and rural areas in Morocco.

In order for these expectations to be realized, however, the serious commitment of the government, the continuing political will of decision-makers, and efficient coordination amongst all the stakeholders is needed in order to build the institutional foundation on which the project depends.

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