Transition to renewable energy is a new global craze, particularly given the rapid decline in prices of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, and concerns about climate due to more frequent extreme weather events.
Faced with rising electricity demand, lack of local fossil fuel resources, and costly fuel imports, Morocco has invested more than $US5 billion to develop renewable energy since 2009, and it plans to spend as much in coming years. The investment has paid off handsomely. This North African nation is now widely considered one of the global leaders in adopting renewable energy and fighting climate change.
The secret of Morocco’s renewable energy success is political will. Before renewables became affordable, accessible, and pervasive across the world in recent years, Morocco was one of the few Arab-speaking countries that set a long-term goal of moving toward renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable growth.
In 2009, Moroccan King Mohammed VI encouraged his country to embrace renewable energy with the goal of reaching a minimum of 42 percent of renewables in the total energy mix by 2030. A new National Energy Strategy was born in 2009 to diversify energy supplies, promote energy efficiency, and develop domestic energy sources in Morocco. It is one of the few nations in the Arab world that phased out fossil fuel subsidies by 2014 without a major public discontent, which allowed it to maintain the competitiveness of its renewable energy sources.
A new National Energy Strategy was born in 2009 to diversify energy supplies, promote energy efficiency, and develop domestic energy sources in Morocco.
Morocco created a favorable regulatory environment that allows the private sector and international investors to participate in bidding for renewable energy projects. A 2009 law made it possible for private investors to build renewable energy capacity and transmission lines and sell electricity to consumers. This law was key to expanding the country’s wind and solar power generation capacity.
Morocco produced 35 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources at the end of 2018, and it expects this percentage will reach 45 percent by the end of 2020. By 2030, the country plans to increase its renewable energy capacity to 52 percent in its total power generation and reduce energy consumption by 15 percent.
Hydropower is a leader among renewable energy sources in Morocco. It meets more than 20 percent of the country’s renewable energy needs. Morocco will reach its hydropower potential with the current installed capacity of about 1,770 MW and planned expansion of the hydro power capacity by additional 1,130 MW by 2030.
The share of wind and solar power generation has increased exponentially over the past decade. Wind generates about 14 percent of Morocco’s electricity and solar approximately 10 percent. With massive development of renewable energy since 2009, Morocco uses gas-fired electricity production as a backup to respond to the intermittency of wind and solar power (i.e. fossil fuels are used in situations when the sun does not shine and wind does not blow).
Morocco uses gas-fired electricity production as a backup to respond to the intermittency of wind and solar power.
As the share of renewables in the energy mix is expected to increase in coming years, the major challenge for Morocco will be building enough energy storage to use all the electricity it generates from renewables. Despite concerns about intermittency of renewable energy sources, they have not only been reliable sources of energy, but they are also expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet by 5-10 percent this year from the 2019 emission levels and save billions in energy import costs.
Morocco is not only able to generate enough renewable electricity for domestic consumption. It is connected to Spain’s power grid to export its electricity, and it plans to build an electrical interconnection line to Portugal.
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Morocco’s dedication to renewable energy has won global praise. Although it is not one of the world’s major emitters of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, it is widely considered as one of the few nations in the world that has lived up to its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 to cut its emissions and invest in clean energy sources.
Morocco is ranked third in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index after Sweden and Denmark for its aggressive climate action. This October, the International Energy Agency (IEA), an international intergovernmental organization that supports energy policymaking of its 30-member countries, credited Morocco for representing nearly three-quarters of North Africa’s renewable power generation, and it stressed that the country should be a model for the region. Morocco is an associate member of IEA.
However, Morocco has more challenges to overcome to fully enjoy the benefits of its mass electrification and blooming clean energy industry. Many Moroccans are left out of the economic development and energy reforms. They continue to suffer from lack of electricity and access to clean water.
Many Moroccans are left out of the economic development and energy reforms. They continue to suffer from lack of electricity and access to clean water.
Although Morocco has enjoyed more political stability compared to its neighbors – a key factor that helped implement its ambitious energy policies and propel the success of renewables – the country continues to suffer from rampant inequality, poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly above 35 percent. Moreover, Morocco saw an upsurge of public discontent about human rights violations and corruption in 2019, which has since subsided.
With about 40 percent of Moroccans working in the agricultural sector, increasing episodes of droughts across the country due to climate change spell disaster for numerous farming communities. Climate change is responsible for increasing hardships for many farmers, primarily Amazigh (Berbers), who are forced to give up their traditional nomadic lifestyles due to the decline in arable lands and grazing lands for animals and shortage of water. Rising desertification and higher than usual temperatures in North Africa are expected to push more Moroccans to poverty.
Morocco’s determination to meet its emission targets and transform its energy sector will be a hollow victory if they are not translated into improving the lot of its marginalized and poor populations, most of whom are directly impacted by climate change. Moroccan authorities have their work cut out for them to distribute the benefits of renewable energy and infrastructure-development more equitably and create more jobs, particularly in light of the latest economic setback stemming from the global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to a recent report from the United Nations, the pandemic-related social and economic decline in Morocco is at risk of pushing over 1 million people into poverty. As the country is poised to increase its renewable energy capacity, the energy sector could be a great opportunity to invest in Morocco’s human capital and create more jobs. While many of the mega clean energy projects, such as the construction and launch of the massive Noor Solar Complex, did not fully use the local know-how, Morocco can take a different path and invest in strengthening local knowledge and participation going forward.