Morocco’s Noor solar project takes shape
The southern Moroccan city of Ouarzazate will soon be home to Africa's largest solar plant and the world's biggest concentrating solar power (CSP) facility, with $6.49bn worth of solar projects currently in the works
The southern Moroccan city of Ouarzazate will soon be home to Africa's largest solar plant and the world's biggest concentrating solar power (CSP) facility, with $6.49bn worth of solar projects currently in the works.
The 500-MW Ouarzazate Solar Complex (OSC) - which will occupy an area roughly the size of the capital Rabat - will harness solar power using CSP technology. As opposed to traditional photovoltaic panels, CSP uses mirrors to focus sunlight and convert it into 400°C heat to create steam that will power an energy-generating turbine.
The turnkey project's first installation will be the 160-MW Noor I plant, with the Noor II and III facilities set to come on-line by 2018 or 2019.
Through investment in projects like the OSC, Morocco aims to exploit its 3000 annual hours of sunlight for domestic electricity production, with a view to eventually exporting power across the Mediterranean.
The Morocco Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), created in 2010, is looking for solar projects like the OSC to enable Moroccan companies to add value to the sector, rather than merely importing and distributing products.
"The solar cluster was created in order to bring public and private actors together, creating an environment for collaborative projects that boost the development of local renewable energy industries," Ahmed Squalli, CEO of NRJ International and president of the Moroccan Association of Solar and Wind Industry, told OBG.
While the government is expected to launch further incentives aimed at encouraging local integration in the emerging solar economy, obstacles to local involvement remain.
"As of today, the energy market in Morocco is not accessible to small-scale Moroccan companies, and as a result, only big international players can participate in major projects like Ouarzazate," Squalli added.
The construction of Noor I, led by Spanish consortium TSK-Acciona-Sener, demonstrates the challenge of achieving full local integration. At 32% local company involvement, the plant exceeded its 30% target. However, Moroccan firms played a largely supportive role, providing services related to construction, commissioning, engineering, installation and logistics.
This should change in the near future. Sener and Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power, who will serve as the developers for Noor II and III, are looking to improve upon these figures, with local integration targets set at 35% and plans to increase the percentage of locally sourced materials used in both plants.
Renewable energy projects like the OSC aim to reduce Morocco's heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels, with 96% of the kingdom's energy sourced from abroad at a cost of more than $8bn per year.
Increased electrification - alongside a 7% per annum increase in electricity consumption per year over the past decade, according to the national utility company, Office National de l'Electricité et de l'Eau Potable (ONEE) - has placed a greater strain on the power grid in recent years.
To bolster its energy independence, Morocco has introduced a series of schemes focused on ramping up the contribution of renewables to the country's energy mix.
In September 2015 the government amended the country's renewable energy law from 2010, raising the renewable energy target from 15% to 42% by 2020.
Under the plan, 2000 MW each of solar, wind and hydro capacity will be developed, at a cost of at least $13bn, according to Hakima El Haite, minister-delegate in charge of environment. The planned wind projects alone are expected to generate 6.6m KWh of energy per year, and reduce the country's annual CO2 emissions by as much as 5.6m tonnes.
Additional solar projects are also expected, after King Mohammed VI announced plans to raise the renewable target further, to 52% by 2030, during the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in late November.
While observers largely expect the country to reach its renewable energy targets, challenges remain, including power grid integration, lack of feed-in tariffs, and weaknesses in the institutional and statutory framework of the sector.
To help address these challenges, the government has taken some initial steps to reform the sector's legal and regulatory framework, such as raising the ceiling for self-generation by industrial sites from 10 MW to 50 MW in 2008.
The 2015 reforms to the renewable energy law saw further changes to the sector, with renewable energy producers now able to sell surplus electricity to establishments connected to ONEE's high-voltage or very-high-voltage grid. The minimum capacity for hydropower projects has also been increased, from 12 MW to 30 MW.