Morocco's Ambitious Renewable Energy Drive: A Potential Green Superpower in the Making

12/13/20237 min read

Morocco continues to leverage its rich renewable resources potential with its multiple green mega projects, portrayed by the spectacular Ouarzazate solar power plant Station (Noor Ouarzazate), as it aspires to emerge as a key player in renewable energy and an essential partner in Europe's transition to clean power.

In 2009, Morocco set out an ambitious energy plan to reduce fossil dependency which aimed for 42% of total installed power capacity to be renewable energy by 2020. The plan drove a strong expansion of both wind and solar over the following decade and the country pursued a comprehensive approach to climate change positioning itself as a regional leader in clean energy and driving forward ambitious renewable energy projects.

Morocco also built the Noor Ouarzazate Complex located just 70 miles from Marrakesh, the worlds's largest concentrated solat power plant (CSP), an enormous array of curved mirrors spread over 3,000 hectares (11.6 sq miles) which concentrate the Sun's rays towards tubes of heat transfer fluid used to heat a water network, the steam produced drives a turbine (mechanical energy), thereby generating electricity. This dazzling Solar Power Station is just one of the mega projects showcasing Morocco's commitment to exploit its vast solar and wind power potential. Moreover, The country aims to deepen its cooperation with European neighbors and become an essential partner in the race toward achieving "net zero" emissions.

Morocco has an average solar potential of 5 kilowatt hours (kWh) per square meter per day. Although this varies geographically, it uncovers a huge potential of hibernated clean energy.

Total installed capacity from solar energy currently stands at 831 MW. This includes Ain Beni Mathar (20 MW), Nour Ouarzazate 1 (160 MW), Nour Ouarzazate 2 (200 MW), Nour Ouarzazate 3 (150 MW) and Nour Ouarzazate 4 (72 MW). Others are Nour El-Ayoun 1 (85 MW), Nour Boujdour 1 (20 MW), and Nour Tafilalet (Zagora, Erfoud, Missour photovoltaic plants), which produces 120 MW.

In 2019, the Kingdom announced Noor Midelt project which will ressemble to Noor Ouarzazate but with a hybrid approach. it will combine 600 MW of Concentrated solar power (CSP) and 1,000 MW of photovoltaics (PV), for an impressive total of 1,600 MW. The phase 1 is set to be operational in 2024 with a capacity of 800 MW.

⫸Wind Energy

As Morocco continues to reduce its external reliance on fossil fuels, the renewable energy sector is already thriving, accounting for 40% of the country's installed power generation capacity with some fossil fuel subsidies already been phased out. More specifically, the country boasts around four gigawatts of installed renewables capacity, combining solar (830 MW), wind (1.5 GW), and hydropower (1.8 GW) with an ambitious target of reaching 52% by 2030.

According to GlobalData’s report, ‘Morocco Power Market Size, Trends, Regulations, Competitive Landscape and Forecast, 2022-2035’ , renewable power is estimated to witness rapid growth between 2021 and 2035, growing at the highest CAGR of 10.3% and is forecasted to account for over half the cumulative installed capacity in the country.

Four advanced subsea cables, each 3,800km long, form the twin 1.8GW HVDC subsea cable systems that will transport the electricity from the Moroccan site to a grid location in Great Britain. The cables will follow a shallow water route, passing through Spain, Portugal, and France, with exclusive power distribution to the UK.

In addition, The cables will be connected to a large battery facility with a capacity of 20GWh/5GW. This will provide power that can be stored and delivered to the UK at times of peak demand.

Attractive green strategy for foreign investments

Finding new revenue sources is critical for Morocco, especially as climate change impacts the country's vulnerability, causing rising temperatures and droughts that squeeze agriculture and water supplies. The country is focusing on attracting international companies and easing financing to achieve its target. Renewable energy projects are supported through the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN)’s institutional framework offering a ‘one stop shop’ for private project developers, bringing together permitting, land acquisition and financing aspects as well as securing a state guarantee for the investment. Independent Power Producers (IPP) may also develop Renewable Energy (RE) projects and sell the electricity to a consumer or a consortium of consumers having access to very high voltage (VHV), high voltage (HV) and under certain conditions to medium voltage (MV).

Europe is expected to become a major export market for Morocco's renewable power, particularly as the region seeks alternative sources after losing Russian gas supplies.  Existing electricity interconnectors and a gas pipeline between Spain and Morocco, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, form the foundation of futur energy cooperation.

The XLinks Project

The UK has made a strong commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, both by decarbonizing its own economy and by promoting international action to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement. However, to fully decarbonize the power sector by 2035, the UK must transform its energy system at a rapid pace while ensuring it remains reliable and affordable for households and industry. This is where Xlinks Morocco-UK Power Project comes in. By providing a consistent and reliable source of clean energy, the project will help the UK meet its ambitious decarbonization goals while ensuring the continued affordability and reliability of the electricity grid.

the biggest advantage of Morocco is its exceptional solar and wind resources. With the third highest Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) in North Africa, the country has 20% more sunlight than Spain and over twice as much as the UK. Even on the shortest winter day, Morocco still receives over 10 hours of sunlight. This makes it an ideal location for generating renewable energy that can meet the needs of the UK power market, particularly during periods of low offshore wind production.

The ambitious project will be powered by a wind and solar farm located in Morocco's Guelmim Oued Noun region With the ability to generate 10.5GW of zero carbon electricity. The wind farm will take advantage of the reliable Trade Winds in the area, which are driven by the temperature differential between the Atlantic Ocean and the African continent. The windspeed at the generation site increases in the late afternoon and evening, ensuring power can be delivered to the UK during times of peak demand. The solar photovoltaic (PV) farm will cover approximately 200km2 and track the sun from east to west throughout the day. This not only maximizes the output of the solar farm, but it also increases the output early in the morning and late in the afternoon, providing the most consistent generation profile for the UK.

As of April 2023, the project reached a critical milestone after raising GBP30 million of funding. The investment comes after securing GBP25 million of investment from Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA), one of the largest listed integrated utility companies in the Middle East and North Africa region and GBP5 million from global energy technology business, Octopus Energy Group. With this achievement, TAQA and Octopus are validating Xlinks’ plans to build a first-of-a-kind long-distance renewable energy generation project.

Final words : Big hopes      

Despite its deserved reputation and while energy demands are rapidly increasing, Morocco confronts genuine obstacles. Its geographical location in a climate change hotspot exposes it to the adverse effects of global warming. Additionally, the nation grapples with poverty and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have strained its economic and social fabric.

Nonetheless Morocco remains steadfast in its commitment to overcoming these obstacles and has implemented comprehensive strategies to harness its vast renewable energy potential and pave the way towards a greener future, thus converging with the world's Net zero target. Government officials believe that renewable energy can transform their country's fortunes and reduce its dependency on external energy markets, mirroring how oil revolutionized Norway's economy.

Xlinks subsea cables plan (Source : Octopus energy group)

According to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development, Morocco could potentially generate 25,000 MW of wind power. At present, the country has an installed capacity from wind energy of 1466 MW, the second largest volume in Africa behind South Africa.

The wind plants include Nessim Amougdoul (60 MW), Nessim Tangier (140 MW), Nessim al-Koudia Baida (50 MW), and Nessim Tarfaya (300 MW),Nassim Midelt (180 MW) and Nassim Taza 1 (87 MW).

In November 2021, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry announced that the country will mobilize around MAD14.5 billion ($1.6 billion) of global investment to finance a 1,000 MW integrated wind energy program. The capital will be used to build wind parks across the country and these are expected to be commissioned by 2024.

Hydropower Energy

Today Morocco is home to 28 hydropower stations, totaling around 2200 MW in capacity. These stations comprise both impoundment dams and pumped storage facilities (PETS), contributing to the country's diverse hydropower infrastructure. Morocco began constructing dams several decades ago, with the earliest projects dating back to the mid-20th century. The country recognized the potential of hydropower stations for water resource management, hydropower generation, and rural development. The largest Dams are Al Wahda and Allal El Fassi which are located in the north part of the country with 240 MW each.

During the 2000s, Morocco embraced the adoption of Pumped Energy Storage (PES) facilities, marking a notable shift towards more advanced and efficient energy storage solutions. This transition began with the establishment of the first PES site in 2004 near Ben-Mellal, specifically in Afourer, boasting an impressive power capacity of 460 MW.

In 2022, a second PES facility of 350 MW has been completed at the Abdelmoumen site in the region of Taroudant. The country aims to continue its progress with two additional sites (El Menzel and Chefchaouen) expected to be operational by 2026.

Promising opportunities

⫸Solar Energy

Morocco wind parc - Nassim Tarfaya (Source Masen)

Morocco Hydropower site - Idriss 1st Dam / 41 MW (Source Masen)

Morocco renewables overview

Morocco solar parc - Noor Midelt I (Source Masen)