Following Morocco’s renewables lead

In 2009 Morocco created a plan that targeted 42% of renewable energy by 2020, driven by solar and wind. Furthermore, the country is seeking to increase the share of renewables in its domestic energy mix from 37% to 52% by 2030, and a total of 60 projects have already attracted more than USD billion in investments.

According to Johnny El Hachem, CEO of Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity, “Morocco’s industrial strategy, built around large-scale renewable energy projects, is a blueprint that can guide energy strategy in other countries in Africa and the Middle East”. El Hachem also added that “Morocco benefits from a “very strong” industrial strategy in areas such as automotive and aeronautics (…) Morocco has defined itself as a leader in renewable energy by “willingly and intentionally” adopting it for domestic industry and export to Europe”.

Flagship projects include Noor Ouarzazate, the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant; the plant extends over 3,000 hectares of desert and has a capacity of 580 MW, with investors including the French Agency for Development (FAD), the German Development Bank (GDB), the European Union (EU) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

In June 2022, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that Morocco is expected to have the third lowest green hydrogen production cost in 2050 (only behind China and Chile), ranging between roughly USD $0.7/kgH2 and USD $1.4/kgH2. This has placed the country ahead of well-established players in the global energy sector such as Australia, Mexico, India, and the United States. 

Planning ahead

In a recent report, the World Bank argues that decarbonizing the economy would put Morocco on the path to becoming a major exporter of green hydrogen and make the country an industrial hub for low-carbon manufacturing destined primarily for the EU. Nevertheless, to reach this goal, Morocco must secure a massive USD $53 billion investment by 2050 to decarbonize its national economy, and up to USD $78 billion to reach its climate resilience targets.

In addition to bringing the country closer to its green targets, increasing solar and wind energy production is set to create at least 28,000 jobs annually in the green energy and efficiency sectors alone. Moreover, as stated by The Morocco Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR) “the country has the necessary capabilities to generate 85% of its electricity needs from green energy sources by 2050, 20% up from 2021”.

Investing in decarbonizing the economy would also lessen the country’s dependency on fossil fuels and ammonia imports, boosting energy sovereignty and cutting pollution. The WB’s report predicts that the country’s cost-intensive decarbonization plans could be backed by the private sector should the country enhance its policies to attract investment in the green energy sector.

Establishing the country’s first green hydrogen production system

In September 2022, Morocco’s Research Institute for Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN) announced that it successfully completed the installation of its first micro-pilot green hydrogen production system. According to the Institute, the pilot project which is incubated in the Green Energy Park of Benguerir “is part of the Power-to-X µPilot launched by IRESEN and UM6P, and consists of an electrolyzer with a capacity of 20kW and photovoltaic solar panels”. The project is set to advance sustainable mobility and renewable electricity storage in Morocco, using hydrogen and fuel cells.

Furthermore, IRESEN stated that besides producing green hydrogen that will be used to generate green ammonia, green methanol, and green fuels, the micro-pilot will train and upskill students, researchers, engineers, technicians, and managers from the Institute, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), the National Hydrogen Commission and the Green H2 Morocco Cluster. This has been considered a major step forward in preparing Moroccan local content on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Green hydrogen pilot projects in Morocco

In addition to the aforementioned, Morocco’s UM6P partnered in November 2022 with energy-focused Chariot and manufacturer of green hydrogen systems Oort Energy to launch green hydrogen pilot projects in Morocco. These projects are set to use a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyzer system, patented by Oort, to produce green hydrogen from water using renewable energy.

By taking part in the project, Chariot has deployed its expertise in the field to evaluate the economic viability of the project, while UM6P is mobilizing its network of researchers and partners to develop education and capacity building around the production of green hydrogen and ammonia in Morocco. Moreover, this would also be a great opportunity for Oort to test its electrolyzer technology in a different setting, with the objective of bringing the cost of green hydrogen production down. It’s important to note that if the projects go ahead they would prove whether large-scale green hydrogen and ammonia production is feasible in Morocco. 

Given the need to increase fertilizer production in Morocco and Africa to address regional food insecurity challenges, Morocco’s phosphate and fertilizer giant OCP Group has reiterated its interest in developing green ammonia projects in the country. The new projects hope to cut the group’s reliance on natural gas, a scarce energy source in the country. OCP’s Jorf lasfar’s Research and Development facility is expecting to host one of the pilot projects. 

Finally, in March 2022, OCP, UM6P, and Shell launched a pilot project focused on producing low-carbon ammonia from renewable energy. As stated by Mohamed Bousseta, Director of Innovate for Industry at UM6P, “partnerships between research institutes and public and private stakeholders are vital to the development of green hydrogen and green ammonia in Morocco. The green hydrogen sector needs collaboration of this nature to develop education and research in this new and strategic domain for Morocco”.

Morocco’s Southern Provinces: A Growing Hub for International Investments

Morocco’s latest investment event to promote investment in its south took place in November 2022, ahead of the country’s 47th Green March anniversary. Titled “Morocco’s Southern Provinces: A Growing Hub for International Investments,” the event highlighted the significant development and opportunities available in its southern region.

The Conference showcased a wide variety of opportunities available in provinces including Dakhla-Oued Eddahab, Guelmim Ouad Noon, and Laayoune Sakia Hamra, with opportunities for British businesses and investors.

Following the Morocco Now initiative, the country has recently undertaken special efforts to extend international financial involvement within the private sector, with one of the focuses being energy. Most importantly, His Majesty King Mohamed VI has specifically expressed the desire for greater foreign investment in what is described as the ‘Gateway to Africa,’ the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region in the southernmost part of the country.

During the Conference, close attention was paid to the ongoing efforts of Morocco’s Green Energy Plan that aims to see 52% of the country’s needs to be produced from renewable green energy. Expert panelists highlighted the geographical and political desirability of the southern region through presentations on its current developments and the local natural resources available, such as high wind speeds for wind farms, and long solar hours for solar power.

Noor Ouarzazate

The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex is a 580 MW power plant located 10 kilometres north-east of the city of Ouarzazate, Morocco; it is the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world.

Phase 1 of the Ouarzazate solar power station project involved the construction of a 160 MW Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant named Noor I, while Phase 2 involved the construction of the 200 MW Noor II CSP plant, and the 150 MW Noor III CSP plant, and Phase 3 involved the construction of a 70 MW photovoltaic Noor IV CSP power plant.

The Ouarzazate solar power station project forms part of the Moroccan Solar Energy Programme (NOOR), which aims to develop 5 solar complexes with a combined capacity of approximately 2 GW by 2020 to meet the energy demands of the country, which depends 95% on imports.

The Noor I CSP plant offsets 240,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year, and generated approximately 1,000 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs during the operation and maintenance phase. Together, the Noor II and Noor III plants can offset 533,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

The Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline

In November 2022, The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed determination to provide its full support for the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline project. Sediko Douka, ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of Infrastructure, Energy and Digitalization, fully praised the project initiative from the two countries, stating that “having this vision of the future will definitively establish the energy independence of the region and will strengthen South-South cooperation”.

Douka also mentioned that “ECOWAS energy demand is only 60% covered, with an expensive tariff or around USD $0.24/kWh and a low access rate of 53%”, and stressed that the project comes at the right time due to the lack of means of energy production in the ECOWAS region.

HM King Mohammed VI has also previously stated that he wants this to be a strategic project that benefits all of West Africa, a region which is home to more than 440 million people, emphasizing that the project will ensure peace for African economic integration and for co-development.

The USD $25 billion project will cover 5,600 kilometres spanning over 11 countries along the Atlantic coast, with the ambition of benefiting over 340 million inhabitants. Morocco will host 1,672 kilometres of the pipeline, connecting it to Europe through Spain, during a time where the continent could be looking to diversify its energy sources.

Boosting cooperation on renewable energy

In October 2022, Morocco’s top diplomat Nasser Bourita and the EU Commission Deputy Head, Frans Timmermans launched the European Union and Moroccan “Green Partnership” deal aimed at bolstering cooperation on renewable energy.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is the “first of its kind” according to Frans Timmermans. According to the document, it is set to boost cooperation in the fight against climate change, with private sector involvement, and it also aims to foster the transition to a decarbonised industry through investment in green technology, renewable energy production, sustainable mobility, and clean production in industry.

The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) also gathered 10 Spanish renewable energy companies for a face-to-face conference in Rabat at the end of October 2022. The event was an opportunity for Spanish companies to learn more about the Moroccan renewable energy sector, as well as to establish contact with public and private stakeholders in the North African country.

The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), IRESEN, the National Federation of Electricity, Electronics, and Renewable Energies (FENELEC), and Moroccan renewable energy developer Gaia Energy were present at the event.

About the Author: Felipe Gaitán Michelsen