Morocco is taking a lead in the promotion of renewable energy in North Africa, aiming to develop wind and solar to meet both domestic electricity demand and export power to Europe. Interconnectors to Spain and Portugal are under consideration.
Morocco has a considerable geographic advantage when it come to exporting power to Europe; the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates it from Spain, is only 14 km wide at its narrowest point, and already hosts a 700 MW interconnector, the only existing North Africa-Europe power link.
Morocco’s lack of commercial oil and gas production mean that fossil fuel imports have long placed a huge strain on the country’s foreign currency reserves.
Renewables offer an easy way to relieve that burden. Yet the government’s targets are a little odd and recent gas discoveries could pose a threat to the country’s renewable ambitions.
Rabat has set a goal of renewables, including large hydro, accounting for 42% of total power production by 2020.
According to the Ministry of Energy, wind, solar power and hydro provided 30% of power production in 2016, so while ambitious, the 42% goal is achievable given the number of projects under development.
But if the 2020 target is achieved, it makes the 2030 target of 52% seem distinctly less challenging. Almost all other governments would stack the growth in renewables in favor of the later date.
It seems likely that Rabat is concerned about missing the 2020 target and has announced the later goal as a backstop.
Perhaps because of its location in a region with plentiful oil and gas reserves, Morocco has never really accepted its apparent hydrocarbon misfortune.
It has consistently encouraged exploration by foreign companies, both on its own territory and that of the disputed Western Sahara.
A study funded by the US Energy Information Administration suggested that the latter holds 20 Tcf and 200 million barrels of technically recoverable shale gas and oil reserves.
Most recently, UK firm SDX Energy has announced a string of gas discoveries in the Gharb Basin and Sebou as part of a nine-well drilling campaign.
If proved commercial, the reserves could test Rabat’s policy of favoring renewables over gas-fired power plants.
Under current government policy, renewables including large hydro are to account for 75% of all new generating capacity completed between 2016 and 2030.
By far the biggest contribution to achieving the country’s renewables’ goals will come from the Noor Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) scheme near the city of Ouarzazate. Noor I provided 160 MW, with Noor II adding another 200 MW in January.
Spanish firm SENER’s Noor III is scheduled to add another 150 MW by October, with its solar tower already in place.
It will be only the second ever CSP tower to utilize molten salts. About 90% of the 5 GW of CSP capacity installed across the world to date uses parabolic troughs.
The government hopes that its focus on CSP technology will create R&D and possibly also manufacturing jobs, if CSP become more widespread globally.
CSP’s ability to make solar power dispatchable certainly holds out promise, but costs need to fall further.
The project will provide residential peak load electricity in the evening. Phases I, II and III offer energy storage of three, six and seven and a half hours respectively.
Noor III has a long-term power purchase agreement for $150/MWh, but it is hoped that future phases will be able to offer cheaper electricity as the technology develops.
The government hopes to oversee the development of 2 GW of solar power generating capacity at Noor, spread across PV and CSP. The location offers more than 330 days of sunshine a year.
Apart from transforming the domestic power sector, Rabat is also keen to start large-scale electricity exports to Europe and is currently trying to firm up its previous vague export aspirations.
A feasibility study for the construction of a 200 km, 1 GW subsea transmission line to Portugal is nearing completion. It would run from Tangier to the Algarve.
Portuguese officials have suggested that construction could begin this year, although this seems unlikely given that the financing arrangements and development consortium have not been agreed.
Construction costs are estimated at Eur600 million ($739 million).
Electricity would pass in both directions, but Rabat is hopeful that it will mainly be deployed as an export line for Moroccan power, with Portugal able to sell electricity onwards.
An agreement enabling this was signed by the governments of Morocco, Portugal, Spain, France and Germany last year.
The construction of a similarly high capacity link with Spain is also under discussion.
Morocco currently imports about 20% of its power needs from Spain, but hopes to make this more of a two-way trade in the medium term, with the focus again on exports in the future.
The Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (Masen) calculates that the country will have 887 MW of solar power capacity by the end of this year, up from just 180 MW at the close of 2017; plus 1,207 MW of wind power, in comparison with 887 MW at the end of last year.
Morocco also has an often underreported 1,770 MW of hydro capacity, which contributes a large slice of its installed generating capacity of just over 9 GW.
In December, a joint venture of Vinci Construction and Andritz Hydro won a Eur284 million contract to build the 350 MW Abdelmoumen pumped storage plant to help balance out supply and demand. This would also facilitate the management of power exports to Europe.
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