Morocco has begun to invest in solar energy, utilizing the abundance of sources of natural energy to create solar plants that will provide half the country’s energy by 2050.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference and 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) was hosted in Marrakesh, Morocco from November 7th through the 18th. For the Maghreb Kingdom, this event was an occasion to display the country’s commitment towards sustainability and renewable energy. Morocco is located at the westernmost point of the Arab world, with ‘Maghreb’ meaning ‘west’ in Arabic, and as a result does not share in the same oil reserves enjoyed by many other Arab states.
Instead, King Mohammed VI hopes to invest in renewable energy. This will both help to make Morocco more independent, as well as develop the infrastructure of the country. While Morocco lacks fossil fuels, the country’s proximity to coastlines from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean offer both sun and wind. King Mohammed VI looks to utilize these natural resources to increase Morocco’s share of renewable electrical energy to 52% by 2030. The goal is for 14% of this energy to come from solar power. Morocco’s aims in this sector are indeed high, but manageable considering that the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) has announced the construction of two huge solar plants with a total capacity of up to 800 MW by the beginning of 2017.
The town of Ouarzazate, situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountain Chain and near the doorstep of the Sahara, is the location of the concentrated solar power plant (CSP) Noor I. With 330 days of sunshine each year, the reasons why are self-evident. The plant was commissioned in February 2016, and is now considered one of the largest in the world.
In the next phase, another large CSP plant, Noor III will be constructed in the southwest region of the country during 2017. A third phase in 2018 will being the construction of another CSP plant, Noor IV.
Noor I should offset approximately 240,000 tons of CO² emissions each year, and the Noor II and Noor III plants combined will offset another 533,000 tons. Improvements are still being made to reduce water consumption, a pressing issue in an arid region. While Noor I utilized water for cleaning and cooling, Noor II and III will employ pressurized air and a dry cooling system. The construction of the plants will also provide an economic boost, as the plants will provide employment as well as the opportunity for the construction of roads and water channels that will connect with 33 villages.
The European Union has provided support for Morocco in this endeavor, providing 60% of the funding for the Ourazazate project. As it looks towards the future, Morocco hopes to export power back to Europe while serving as an example for other African nations looking to follow the same path.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar power could increase its share of global power generation from 2 percent today to 13 percent by 2030. After several false starts, solar power is becoming both viable and competitive in the global market. Plants similar to those in Morocco are being built in other countries across Northern Africa and the Middle East with similar climates and geographic characteristics, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates- all of which have relied almost solely on fossil fuels as the basis of their economies in the past. If Morocco’s projects prove successful, leading the way for the rest of the continent, Africa could become the world’s exporter of solar energy.
Writer: Edoardo De Silva, contributor to Revolve Media