OUARZAZATE, Morocco – Not far from the Sahara desert and the High Atlas Mountains, many solar panel rows are lined up on a bare plateau at an elevation of 1,300 meters as part of an ambitious project that is part of Morocco’s focus to diversify the North African country’s energy sources and mobilise its renewable resources.
“This site was chosen firstly because of the importance of the solar resources available in this location,” Rachid Bayed, a director of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy, Masen, told New Europe in an interview in Ouarzazate.
“We have here 3,000 acres below us to develop big and bigger projects,” he said from a new observation tower at the site. He noted that the quality of the soil and proximity to a dam are very important for the projects.
“We’re in a location that’s not that far from the Sahara and as you can see the soil that we have here is not used for any other activity like agriculture,” Bayed said, adding that the solar projects add value to the land, which would not have otherwise been used.
Morocco hopes to create opportunities for exporting its clean energy to the north and its expertise in harnessing renewable energy to the south. In this regard, during COP22 in Masen, Morocco signed a major agreement for exchanging electricity with Germany, France Spain and Portugal (SET Roadmap).
“This partnership has enabled us to exchange electricity at the end between Europe and Morocco and within Morocco perhaps other countries in Africa,” Bayed said. “What is important is to create all the conditions that allow all the parties, all these countries to develop enough renewable energy with the best price they could have. It’s not necessarily that this energy is to be done in France or in Morocco. Where we have the resources we can use it to make this exchange and with the best conditions for all these parties,” he said, adding that Masen also signed memorandums of understanding with several African countries.
“We want to reduce impact on climate here in Morocco but as well within other countries. This is why we are working with those countries to build the conditions for exchanging renewable energy, green energy,” Bayed said. He noted that Morocco is working with other African countries “to share experiences, to share knowledge and, at the same time, develop projects together.”
He also said that Masen plays a key role in the country’s strategy to reduce CO2 emissions. “We are one of the countries that signed the Paris Agreement. We had COP22 and during this COP we decided to increase the target from 42% to 52% by 2030,” he said, referring to the energy mix from renewable sources. He noted that there are other projects like waste-to-energy that can reduce the impact on the environment and to recycle projects.
“There is a national plan with this amount of installed capacity that we need to develop for 2020 as well as for 2030 but there are other goals in terms of cooperation, in terms of training, in terms of sufficient integration that are part of our mission as well that allow the whole ecosystem to develop renewables,” Bayed said.
Masen’s contribution to meeting this target is 3000MW of total minimum additional capacity from renewables by 2020 and 6,000MW by 2030.
However, the potential for renewable energy production is much higher, he said. “In Morocco we have more than 50GW or 50,000 MW of renewable resources that could be used for the future – from wind, solar, hydroelectric, that kind of resources. This is something we can develop,” he said.
Aiming to improve the level of maturity of existing solar technology, the Masen R&D platform was built on a roughly 200-hectare site, in the heart of the Ouarzazate solar complex where Moroccan and international researchers and manufacturers with actual operating conditions test and validate innovations and prototypes resulting from applied and pre-operational R&D backed by industrial projects.
With the opening of Noor Ouarzazate I in February 2016, Morocco reached a major milestone in harnessing its solar energy resources on a large scale. For Noor Ouarzazate I, Masen uses solar thermal technology with parabolic troughs (a type of Concentrating Solar Power).
The advantage of CSP, which is real investment in the future, is that it meets the specific needs of national consumption. CSP technology allows electricity to be stored, offsetting the intermittent nature of solar generation.
Noor Ouarzazate I has a 3-hour storage capacity and helps cover the Kingdom’s peak electricity consumption after sunset. As this technology is in development, it offers real opportunities for industrial integration. Bayed noted that Ouarzazate II and III have larger storage capacity.
In April 2017, King Mohammed VI launched the construction work for Noor Ouarzazate IV the last plant of the Noor Ouarzazate complex and 1st photovoltaic plant of Noor PV I. “What we can see right now the price is going to decrease and it is decreasing quickly PV to CSP and this is what is challenging. This is the opportunity that we have to develop such kind of projects, Bayed said, adding: “What is important is to look to your mix of energy and how it is related to the fossil fuels.”