A Look at Morocco’s Ambitious Renewable Energy Program

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Fifty-four journalists from 28 African countries, who were visiting Morocco to assess the level of preparation the country has made for the upcoming global conference on climate change (COP 22), were astounded by the country’s ambitious renewable energy program.

Being highly impressed after top Moroccan government officials, including the Ministers of Interior and Agriculture and Fisheries drilled them with the level of progress that that country is making to address the issues of climate change, the journalists were fortunate to pay a visit to Morocco’s gigantic solar energy plant—known as Noor-Ouarzazate.

Renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-electric and biomass—provides substantial benefits for the climate, health, and economy.

But before we explore the Moroccan program, let it be established that renewable energy is one of the best ways to mitigate the huge impact of climate change. Many will ask how does this happen?

First of all energy sources have an impact on our environment, but it is no secret that fossil fuels — coal, oil, natural gas and even charcoal in the Liberian context — do substantially more harm than renewable energy sources by most measures. Fossil fuels cause air and water pollution, damage to public health, wildlife and habitat loss, and effect water use, land use, and generate emissions that contribute to global warming.

Human activity is overloading our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions, which trap heat, steadily drive up the planet’s temperature, and create significant and harmful impacts on our health, our environment, and our climate.

For example, one of the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gas, the United States’ electricity production, accounts for more than one-third of its global warming emissions, with the majority generated by coal-fired power plants. This approximately produces 25 percent of total U.S. global warming emissions and natural gas-fired power plants produce 6 percent of total emissions. In contrast, most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions.

It is in this regard that Morocco embarked on constructing the world’s largest renewable energy program (wind, solar and hydroelectric combined) while also boasting the construction of Noor-Ouarzazate, the largest solar energy plant in the world when completed.

The Moroccan government is keen on increasing renewable energy production. Renewable energy, the officials said, represented 0.4% of the national energy balance (excluding biomass) and nearly 10% of electricity production in 2007. This has doubled significantly over the years. Renewable energy is supported by strong hydropower sources and the newly-installed wind energy parks (147 MW installed and 975 MW under deployment). Morocco plans a $13 billion expansion of wind, solar and hydroelectric power generation capacity and associated infrastructure that should see the country get 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

In November 2009 Morocco announced the ambitious Noor-Ouarzazate solar energy project worth $9 billion which officials say will account for 38-45 percent of Morocco’s installed power generation by 2020.

Funding for the project is from a mix of private and state capital. The ceremony was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Moroccan king, Mohammed, VI. The project will involve five solar power generation sites across Morocco and will produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020. It will add in terms of power generation the equivalent of the current electricity consumption of the country’s commercial capital, Casablanca.

As a net energy importer, Morocco launched the National Renewable Energy and Efficiency Plan in February 2008 to develop alternative energy to meet 15% of its domestic needs and increase the use of energy-saving methods. The plan is expected to create more than 40,000 jobs and stimulate over €4.5bn in investment by 2020. The National Plan for the Development of Solar Thermal Energy, formulated in 2001, aimed to install 440,000 solar-powered water heaters of which 235,000 was completed in 2012. The Moroccan government plans to produce 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Many initiatives are dedicated to renewable energy such as solar power plants, pumping stations, hydraulic turbines, waste recycling, water pumps, sea water desalination, air conditioning and solar water heaters. Renewable energy is also the focus of many economic and social programs, as in the case of rural electrification, where individual photovoltaic solar systems account for 7% of energy production.
Two years ago, the World Bank approved the “Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Project—initially commencing as a US$159 million solar energy development project. The financing was intended to expand development of a Moroccan solar energy complex with the goal of increasing the complex’s energy production. By October 2014, the complex carried a 160 megawatt capacity. Project planners hope to grow that capacity to 350 megawatts.

The country had earlier in 2009 announced it would produce 2 Gigs of solar capacity by 2020; subsequently launching the Noor-Ouarzazate.

Five solar power stations are currently under construction. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, has been established to lead the project. MASEN has invited expressions of interest in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of the first of the five planned solar power stations, the 500-megawatt plant in the southern town of Ouarzazate. The first plant was commissioned in 2014, and the entire project will be commissioned in 2019. Once completed, the solar project will provide 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity generation, a tour guard told the journalists.

Morocco is also the only African country to have a power cable link to Europe, which aims to benefit from the €400bn (US$573.8bn) expected to come from the ambitious pan-continental Desertec Industrial Initiative based in Europe.

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