Morocco’s quest to be a renewable energy superpower

Morocco’s quest to be a renewable energy superpower
Currently importing 94 percent of its energy in the form of fossil fuel, Morocco is engaged in an ambitious project to transform itself into a renewable energy giant.
4 min read
08 November, 2015
Morocco plans to generate a total of 6,000 MW from renewables

With the final bids in to build five wind power projects across Morocco, the kingdom is a step closer to its goal of realising its potential for renewable energy and lessening its dependence on fossil fuels.

The wind turbine projects will provide up to 850 MW of power at full capacity, business news website See News reported.

The projects will take the country a significant step toward generating 42 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, as specified in Law 13 of 2009, technology and business website said.

"We are not an oil producer," Morocco's energy minister Hakima el-Haite told the Guardian.

"We import 94 percent of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget."

Morocco plans to generate a total of 6,000 MW from renewables, 2,000 MW each from wind, solar and hydro power sources by 2020, at an expected cost of at least $13 billion.

The 2,000 MW of expected wind capacity is projected to generate 6,600 GW hours per year, and reduce the kingdom's CO2 emissions by 5.6 million tons a year.

Other alternative energy sources

The kingdom's plans for solar energy generation are well on track, with the first part of a massive project due to start producing energy later this month.

The first stage of the Nour ("light") project, located in the desert near Ouarzazate, has 500,000 12 metre-high crescent-shaped solar mirrors arranged in 800 rows that follow the sun to concentrate the sunlight to heat a synthetic oil blend up to 393 degrees celsius, which will then be used to heat water, producing steam to power a conventional steam-turbine generator, the Guardian reported.

When complete, Morocco's concentrated solar plant will be the largest of its kind in the world.

Solar power has obvious advantages in a country blessed with abundant sunshine and large areas of desert.

Though more expensive than normal photovoltaic solar panels, this method of energy generation from solar has the advantage of being able to generate electricity from energy stored in the form of heat for up to three hours after the sun goes down.

This would mean the project could continue to generate electricity until long after peak electricity use in the kingdom at 5pm.

Engineers say that in future, with further development, they may be able to generate electricity for up to eight hours after the sun goes down.

Nour-2 and 3, the second and third stages of the massive project, are scheduled to be completed in 2016-7.

When all four stages are complete, the Ouarzazate project will generate a peak of 580 MW and occupy an area the size of Rabat, Morocco's capital. Additional solar projects are scheduled to start soon at four other sites around the kingdom.

Morocco is already well on the way to meeting its target for hydro power generation, with 1,300 MW already in place.

Long-term plans

The kingdom is planning to continue to expand its renewable energy capacity beyond 2020. By 2030, it aims to more than double its 2020 target for wind power to 5,520 MW of generation capacity.

Morocco is also eyeing potential markets to export future renewable energy surpluses. 

A project to link Morocco to Mauretania's power grid is already underway.

Europe is also a potential market. However, tapping into the potentially lucrative European market for energy is far from straightforward.The Desertec project, a German plan to import 15 percent of Europe's energy needs from North African solar by 2050, collapsed in 2013.

Maha el-Kadiri, a spokeswoman for Masen, the Moroccan Solar Energy Agency, said "We believe that it's possible to export energy to Europe but first we would have to build the interconnectors which don't yet exist," the Guardian reported.

"Specifically, we would have to build interconnections, which would not go through the existing one in Spain, and then start exporting."

Spain has itself prohibited new solar projects because of a lack of interconnectors to transmit the energy to France.

However, Morocco's ambitions for the future of its renewable energy resources remain lofty.

Talks are ongoing with Tunisia, and the kingdom is eyeing the rest of the Middle East.

Ahmed Baroudi, manager of Societe d'Investissements Energetiques, the national renewable energy investment firm, said "The [ultimate] objective given by his majesty the king is Mecca."