Morocco reaping benefits of its ambitious renewable energy strategy

More and more countries are starting to give sustainable energy a priority and Morocco is definitely one of them. Siona Jenkins provides a very detailed account of recent developments.

 

Solar power reflects Morocco’s energy ambitions

When production officially began at the world’s biggest concentrated solar power plant at Ouarzazate in southern Morocco in February, the country was widely celebrated for its achievement.

Called Noor 1 after the Arabic word for light, the concentrated solar power (CSP) plant is designed to deliver 160 megawatts of electricity at peak output. It is the first of three stages in a project expected to provide 510MW of generating capacity by 2018.

Unlike photovoltaic technology, CSP uses the sun to heat fluid, which powers turbines that can supply electricity at night. This gives more constant power to the grid. The complex will save 13m tons of carbon emissions over 25 years.

Morocco has set itself ambitious renewable energy targets. A previous goal of generating 32 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020 — which is likely to be comfortably exceeded — was extended late last year to a target of 52 per cent by 2030.

An important spin-off from this drive is the establishment of a local renewables industry. Officials say they want to establish Morocco as a hub for renewable energy, develop industrial capacity in the sector and even begin exporting energy in the coming decades.

“Industrial integration is one of the big points of our energy strategy,” says Said Mouline, general director of the National Agency for the Development of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. “It is not to just to import technology and to install it here. It is to have step-by-step industrial integration for all sectors linked to renewables or energy efficiency.”

But aligning all the elements necessary to develop a local industry is a challenge, particularly in the solar sector. The sheer scale of Moroccan renewable ambitions is proving tough for local industry.

Until Noor, solar energy was used in off-grid on a small scale for uses such as powering agricultural pumps. The large size of tenders for Noor 1 were well beyond the capacity of the country’s embryonic solar industry to deliver.

“[The development of] local industry remains just a hope for now because the programme is very ambitious,” says Ahmed Squalli, president of Amisole, a Moroccan renewable energy industry association.

Morocco’s energy officials counter that the ambitious targets and large-scale projects are as much about visibility for investors as they are about fast-tracking the development of renewables.

“With all this visibility for the programme we have created the conditions for investors to know that Morocco has the firm intention of going through with this programme . . . that we are here and for a long time with a line of projects for investors,” says Obeid Amrane, a board member of Masen, Morocco’s renewable energy agency.

Mr Amrane and other officials say that part of Noor’s mission is to provide work for the country’s solar industry. They point out that around a third of the construction work for Noor 1 was carried out by domestic companies.

However, this was largely in the form of civil works, steel manufacturing and commissioning, rather than delivery of technology. Local companies say the structure of the tenders made it difficult for them to bid not just because of their scale, but also because of the involvement of multilateral financing bodies — such as the World Bank — which were reluctant to give preferential treatment to local industries.

Another hurdle has been the need for bidders to have a proven record of experience in other large-scale projects. Jet Energy, an engineering and construction company based in Rabat that makes solar units, found itself excluded from larger tenders because of these terms, says Ismail Tadlaoui, its business development manager.

“We manufacture solar panel modules but we cannot use them [to tender] because you need a record — for example 200MW installed somewhere in the world,” he says. “It’s only large international companies that can compete.”

Companies say one way to encourage the solar industry would be to open the grid to more modest renewable energy sources. An amendment to Morocco’s 2009 renewables law is under consideration. Companies and officials say it will expand the market for local businesses by making small-scale projects possible. Many hope that the next UN summit on climate change, COP 22, taking place in Marrakesh in November, will serve as a catalyst for its approval.

Insufficient finance is another obstacle that the companies cite as holding back their growth. There is minimal funding available for business or individuals that want to install photovoltaics, stifling the development of a market that could help local industry build its capacity. “For me everything starts from the market,” says Mr Squalli of Amisole. “The market has to be here and then we can develop.”

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