The country’s ambitious renewables flagship – with an emphasis on solar and wind – is a blueprint for other African countries, writes Dr Hassan Nfaoui
Morocco has a strategic location in the North West of the African continent and is only 14 km from Europe, across the Strait of Gibraltar.
In addition, it has varied relief: the Atlas and Rif Mountains, the Sahara, and the length of its coasts: the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea constitute 3500 km of coastline.
In the Ouarzazate region in central Morocco, for example, the annual average daily global irradiation on a horizontal surface varies from 3.86 to 7.85 kWh/m2, which means an annual average of 7.9 – 11.2 hours of sunshine per day.
Concerning the wind potential, the annual average wind speed, at 10 metres above sea level, for the Tangier zone in the north is 10 m/s, but for the Dakhla zone in the Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra region, it varies between 7 and
Morocco imports more than 96 per cent of its energy needs and its electricity consumption increases by about 8 per cent per year.
For this reason, a new energy strategy was adopted in 2009. It is based mainly on the increase in the contribution of renewable energies to national electricity consumption and the development of the clean energy economy.
This will enable Morocco to reduce its energy bill and its dependence on energy from abroad, in addition to the limitation of its greenhouse gas emissions, thus contributing to the preservation of the environment.
This strategy has been translated into a roadmap with specific objectives and detailed work programmes in the short and medium terms. Morocco has also developed a strategic vision of energy efficiency and resource optimization aimed at achieving 20 per cent less consumption of energy by 2030.
This strategy targets the most energy-intensive sectors, in particular transport, building and industry, as well as agriculture and public lighting.
Since 1945, the construction of dams has been the primary orientation of water management in Morocco. The hydroelectric sector has also been particularly important since 1960. The contribution of installed hydroelectric power (1800 MW), which depends on rainfall, is between 5.1 and 13.7 per cent of the net electricity consumption.
In 2009, a large-scale solar energy use strategy was launched with the creation of the Moroccan Renewable Energy Agency (MASEN), which has become the Moroccan Agency of Sustainable Energy (MASE), to develop renewable energies, particularly solar, wind and hydro, and to promote regional integration between sub-Saharan Africa, European and Arab countries while strengthening the links with the main players in this sector on a worldwide basis.
Thanks to its model of sustainable development, its objective to exploit renewable energies and its openness to world trends in the electricity market, Morocco will be able to identify the latest innovations, energy efficiency and clean technologies.
Due to these objectives, Morocco is moving towards the completion of the second phase of the Noor solar energy programme, by installing another series of multi-technology solar power plants in Midelt, Tata, Lâayoune and Boujdour.
The solar power plant Noor-Ouarzazate
(580 MW), one of the largest solar energy complexes in the world, is the first solar energy project piloted by MASE. It consists of four multi-technology solar sub-plants, which will be developed in full compliance with international standards, both technologically and environmentally, and associated with a research platform.
Among the concerns and objectives of MASEN, there are also the cost-effectiveness appropriation for energy storage technologies, the effects of the reduction of storage costs on the expectations of electricity demand and the supply strategy of the national market.
In Morocco, the strategy for using solar energy for large-scale electricity generation was launched in 2009. The first power plant
(472 MW), incorporating 20 MW of solar power, was built in 2010 and is a solar-natural gas hybrid plant.
The second giant solar power station, Noor I (160 MW), was built in 2016 in Ouarzazate. It uses concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, with a three-hour electricity storage capacity which will be used during peak hours.
A second (200 MW) and a third (150 MW) section of the solar power plant Noor-Ouarzazate, using the same CSP technology, with a solar thermal tower and heliostats only in the third section but with a storage capacity of seven hours, are in the installation stage.
In 2000, the first wind farm, Koudia Al Baida (Tetouan), with a capacity of 50 MW, was installed. However, the largest wind farm in Morocco is Tarfaya (300.1 MW) in the south, built in 2014. It is the largest in Africa. It deposed that of Ashegodae in Ethiopia (120 MW).
In recent years, renewable energy consumption in Morocco has become significant and is constantly growing, reflected by the beginning of the construction of the fourth and final section (70 MW) of the Noor-Ouarzazate solar plant, which uses photovoltaic (PV) technology.
The completion of the construction of this section, which will be operational by the end of 2018, is within the framework of a partnership between MASE, the main actor in the sector of the exploitation of renewable energies in Morocco, and a consortium of private operators headed by the Saudi group Aqua Power, after an international tender.
Morocco has also embarked on the installation of another series of clean energy projects with a capacity of more than 1200 MW. Its completion will permit Morocco to take up the first place in Africa in this sector.
At the end of 2016, the total installed capacity of renewable energies amounted to 2845 MW, of which 1770 MW was for hydroelectricity, 895 MW for wind and 180 MW for solar. The Moroccan electricity plan foresees the realization of an additional capacity of approximately 7249 MW to meet its demand, which should increase by an average of
5.1 per cent per year between 2017 and 2021.
Renewable energies represent more than 74 per cent of this total capacity, that is to say, equivalent to 5403 MW: 356 MW for wind,
3425 MW for solar and 622 MW for hydro.
The share of solar and wind power will be 40 per cent in 2030 compared to 13 per cent in 2016 and only 2 per cent in 2009. Eventually, 1330 MW for hydro will be installed against 4560 MW for solar and 4200 MW for wind.
In addition to the development of solar thermal, photovoltaic and wind energy, Morocco’s strategy includes the introduction of a series of legislative, regulatory and institutional reforms, while improving tax benefits to encourage investment in this sector.
Moreover, starting from 2015, for a rapid and successful energy transition, Morocco will have increased the share of renewable energies to 52 per cent of its installed electricity capacity by the year 2030. This requires the development of new additional capacity of renewable energy of about 11 GW and a total investment estimated at $30 billion.
Morocco also considers itself to be one of the most active African countries for investment in this sector. This makes it one of the pioneering African countries and it is among the first in Africa in the solar energy sector and in the second position for wind energy. It also managed to break through the 1000 MW threshold in wind power installed in 2017, overtaking Egypt and approaching the level of South Africa, which installed 1582 MW. It also plays a leading role in African development through training and experience provided for a range of African countries.
Renewable energy programmes and projects in Morocco are arousing an increasing interest from international and local investors, allowing Morocco to attract more investment in this sector, such as Siemens’ investment of nearly €100 million for the manufacture of wind turbine blades in Morocco.
Morocco also aims, through the exploitation of its natural renewable energy resources, to contribute to the preservation of the environment and the assurance of the durability of its economic and social development.
In addition to the guarantee of a clean earth for future generations, Morocco should comply with its international commitments made at COP22 in 2016 in Marrakech, within the framework of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide.
The massive exploitation of renewable energies in Morocco allows it to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels – unlike Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, where the consumption of oil and natural gas dominates at more than 90 per cent.
It has also set itself a strategic goal by building an electricity transmission line to Spain and Italy, to become the EU’s first sustainable clean electricity supplier and to begin to be a regional centre for the export of competitive clean electricity to its neighbours.
The construction of more than 5000 km of gas pipeline connecting Nigeria, Africa’s third largest gas producer, and Europe through Morocco is essential. Gas is less of a pollutant than coal and oil. The realization of this important economic and social project will strengthen Morocco’s relations in Africa and in Europe.
This strategy gives credibility to its economic policies and creates confidence in its North African diplomacy.
According to a study conducted by a group of researchers led by Wolfram Schlinker, Professor of Economics at the University of Columbia, the rapid rise in global warming could triple the number of migrants arriving in the EU by 2100, because of a sharp rise in temperature in addition to the other factors that force people to leave their countries, such as war and persecution.
Morocco’s contribution, through the increasing use of more renewable energy, could limit the numbers of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr Hassan Nfaoui is a Professor of Renewable Energy at the University of Mohammed-V, Morocco. Since 1982 he has been at the Solar Energy & Environment Laboratory, developing and managing programmes on renewable energy resource assessments and analysis.
This article first appeared in Renewable Energy World.