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Solar superpower

SINCE THE UNVEILING OF A NEW NATIONAL ENERGY STRATEGY in 2009, Morocco has pursued some of the world’s most ambitious energy targets. The backbone of this strategy is the country’s ultimate goal of having 42% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. In addition, Morocco also has the broader aim to secure its energy supply, therefore reducing its dependence on energy imports. At its core, this will enable greater control of the cost of energy services, while also allowing for more attentive conservation of the environment by reducing greenhouse gases. A few years ago, imported fossil fuels provided around 97% of Morocco’s energy needs, according to the World Bank. Moreover, it is also worth noting that electricity demand has also doubled since 2010. Accordingly, the response of the government has been to pursue policies that favor the diversification of the energy mix and prioritize renewables.

Overall, Morocco has made remarkable strides to meet its energy targets. This is perhaps best evidenced by the large-scale megaprojects that have come online in recent years, most notably the Noor Solar Complex, which at present is the world’s largest solar plant. Located in the southern city of Ouarzazate, the morethan-6,000-acre facility is an impressive display of Morocco’s renewable energy ambitions. The statistics behind this megaproject are fairly extraordinary; it has an overall capacity of 580MW, which is enough electricity to power a city twice the size of Marrakesh. Furthermore, the curved mirrors reflect rays to the top of a 243-m tower, which houses molten salt that is melted to create energy. The tower, which is the tallest on the African continent, can generate 500 degrees Celsius of heat. What is unique about this is that unlike conventional solar panels that deliver energy directly to the grid, the curved mirrors concentrate radiation to heat tubes of fluid, which are pumped to a power unit. The unit can hold the energy for use at a later time—specifically at night, when demand is higher.

The overall significance of a project of this magnitude is that it shields Morocco from the volatility of import costs. By harnessing energy from its abundant sunshine on such a mammoth scale, the country is now regarded as a regional leader in the exploitation of renewable energy sources. In the longer term, there is also the potential for Morocco to export its excess power to Europe, in what is called “green energy exporting.” In a continent with a rapidly urbanizing population, changing demographics, and an increasing appetite for energy, Morocco’s is an example for the rest of Africa to follow. Perhaps most notably, the Noor solar plant means Morocco is actually on track to meet its renewable energy targets; at present, already 35% of Morocco’s entire energy comes from renewable sources.

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