With wind, sun and space to spare, Morocco is better endowed than most countries in terms of renewable energy potential. The impetus to go green has also never been stronger, as the energy-importing nation has seen its domestic demand steadily rise. In order to preempt an energy squeeze, the Moroccan government has moved to dramatically increase its national solar capacity through a €6.6 bn programme, and boost the potential for future energy exports.
Five solar power stations are to be constructed by 2020, with the tender for the first slated to begin at the end of February. "We will start first with the tender for Ourzazate power station and the tenders for the others will follow successively," the energy minister, Amina Benkhadra, told international press. When all five plants are on-line, they are expected to meet 20% of Morocco’s energy needs.
Spanish firm Abengoa is the forerunner for Morocco’s solar contracts (it is almost finished building a 470-MW Concentrating Solar Power-gas hybrid station in the southern city of Ain Bni Matha), but several international companies, including Siemens, are also said to be interested.
"Morocco is open to all forms of partnership as long as the foreign firms have the capabilities to bring expertise, technology and know-how. We are looking for public-private as well as national-and-foreign partnerships," Benkhadra said.
The minister’s call was clearly heard, with the Japanese government signing a €5.4m deal in January 2010 to help build what will be Africa’s largest photovoltaic plant in Assa-Zag, Morocco.
Lacking the hydrocarbons reserves of its neighbours, Morocco currently imports 97% of its energy. Demand, which has grown 5-7% per year on average over the past decade, is projected to increase from 24 GWh in 2008 to 95 GWh by 2030. As a result, the government has turned to developing its renewable energy capacity – under the current national energy strategy up to 10% of Morocco’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2012.
In recent years, most efforts have gone into the development of wind energy, which currently accounts for 253 MW of installed capacity and is expected to reach 1554 MW by 2012. The Tangier wind farm, which will be Morocco’s largest, entered construction in 2009 and is expected to go on-line this year. The country’s wind power potential has been estimated at around 6000 MW a year, but its realisation would require billions of euros in investment.
With 3000 hours of sunshine per year, solar power is another option for Morocco that has hitherto been confined predominantly to villages. In the past 10 years, the Programme for Rural Electrification (Programme d’Electrification Rurale) has brought power to 150,000 homes by the use of photovoltaic kits. With capacity totaling 2000 MW, the five planned solar plants will dramatically increase the role of solar energy within the national strategy.
Morocco’s suitable climate, as well as the vast expanses of space in the Sahara, have not gone unnoticed by the world at large, which is also struggling to wean itself off an oil dependency. Companies from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy have attached themselves to the Desertec syndicate, which aims to power Europe with solar energy generated in the Sahara using curved mirror technology.
According to the German Aerospace Center Industrial Initiative, it would take less that 0.3% of the North African desert to produce all the electricity and desalinated water needed domestically by Europe. Priced at €293.7 bn, the Desertec project should account for 15% of Europe’s power consumption by 2050.
"We want to be among the leading countries in this project," Said Mouline, the managing director of Morocco’s Renewable Energy Development Centre, told international press in the summer of 2009. His wish looks to have been granted: in February 2010, consortium founder Desertec Industrial Initiative announced that talks with the Moroccan government had been successful and their pilot project would be on Moroccan soil.
It is a tall order, but the urgency to secure long-term sustainable energy supplies is building internationally, and Morocco is in the right place for the development of solar and wind energy. Though lacking any significant oil resources, the country may yet have a role to play in future energy politics.