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Morocco turns to renewable energy

Ouarzazate impianto solare

The thermodynamic solar plant Noor 1, Ouarzazate

Morocco is the largest energy importer of the Middle East and North Africa. On the other hand, Moroccos potential in terms of green energy production is huge. The North African kingdom has decided to exploit its potential.

The country’s energy consumption has been growing by 6.5 percent in the last decade. It doesnt have oil or natural gas reserves – though it hasn’t given up looking for them – and aims at freeing itself from dependence on imported fossil fuels. According to ‘EcoMENA’, a website promoting sustainability in the region, in 2012 Morocco spent about 10 million dollars to import energy. Furthermore, Moroccan budget was strained by diesel subsidies. Bravely, the incumbent government has decided to cut the subsidies starting from January 1.

Morocco is literally bathed in sunlight, with an average 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. In addition to this, Morocco has 3,500 kilometres of coastline with winds running at an average speed of 5,6 metres per second on 90 percent of the territory. In the regions around Tetouan and Tangier, winds run at a speed between 9,5 and 11 metres per second (40 metres altitude).

Morocco already prides itself on the biggest wind farm in the whole African continent. Launched in December 2014, Tarfaya wind farm has a capacity of about 300 megawatts. Overall, Moroccan wind energy production is around 800 megawatts. Estimates reckon that Moroccos inland potential is about 25 gigawatts. Its offshore potential is estimated at 250 gigawatts. The government aims at adding 2,000 megawatts to its current production by 2020.

energia eolica Marocco

Wind farm in Morocco

Morocco has also launched an ambitious plan to exploit solar power. The project was aptly named Noor – which means light, in Arabic. Once completed, it will be the biggest solar plant on earth: Covering an area of 30 square kilometres it will be the size of Rabat, Morocco’s capital. The project is divided into four phases. Phase one, called Noor 1, was launched by King Mohamed VI in 2013. Its cost was about 660 million dollars. The whole project requires investments for 9 billion dollars. International institutions like the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the African Development Bank as well as national institutions like the German public bank and the French development agency provided funds.

Noor 1 energy production should have started by the end of 2015 – in fact, the start of operations was supposed to follow suit the climate conference in Paris (COP21). Instead, King Mohamed VI inaugurated the thermodynamic solar power plant on Thursday 4 February, afore Spanish foreign ministerJosé Manuel GarciaMargallo, and French ministry of ecologySégolène Royal.

Phase two and three – which will produce 200 megawatts and 150 megawatts, respectively – should be launched this year, while phase four – which will produce the smallest share, 70 megawatts – is at the call for tenders stage.

Once completed, Noor will produce 580 megawatts, enough to light one million houses. Noor 1 alone should produce around 160 megawatts. The plant is located in south central Morocco, near Ouarzazate, nicknamed ‘the door of the desert’. The glance over 800 rows of parabolic troughs – that is, 500,000 mirrors, 12 metres high, which follow the sun through the day – so close to the reddish sand of the desert is impressing – even for a location like Ouarzazate used to host great movie productions like ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘ and ‘The Mummy‘, and TV series like ‘Game of Thrones‘.

Trono di spade a Ouarzazate

A scene from TV series Game of Thrones shot in Ouarzazate

The construction of four more solar parks located in Midelt, Tata, Laayoun and Boujdour, will allow the production to reach the target of 2,000 megawatts, by 2020.

Developing renewable energy sources should allow Morocco to get rid of energy dependence. Furthermore, it should contribute to industrial development and create jobs, encouraging the economy. Noor 1 alone employed around 1,000 workers and represented an opportunity for local businesses.

Coupled with ecotourism, energy exports towards the region – Morocco is already negotiating a supply contract with Tunisia – and towards Europe might become important sources of revenues.  «We believe that its possible to export energy to Europe but first we would have to build the interconnectors which dont yet exist,» said Maha el-Kadiri, Moroccan solar energy agency (MASEN) spokeswoman.

Moroccan energy minister, Abdelkader Amara, said during COP21 that the country should reduce by 13 percent its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, by 2030. He added that this target might be raised to 32 percent if the international community helped Morocco to achieve its green energy goals. (Morocco will host COP22 in Marrakech.)

Morocco’s general objective is to produce 42 percent of its energy demand by 2020, and 52 percent of its energy demand by the following decade. It’s about 6 gigawatts requiring an investment of 35 billion dollarsa great opportunity for foreign investors.

(Morocco is going green not only in terms of energy. The country is the second-largest consumer of plastic bags: 26 million bags used each years. As of November 2015, the parliament approved a draft bill to outlaw the production, import, marketing and consumption of plastic bags, starting from July 2016. Few exceptions apply: trash, cooler, freezer bags and those for agricultural use.)

The original version of this article was published in Italian on L’Indro.

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