IEA review highlights Morocco's progress towards energy transition

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In its first in-depth review of Morocco’s energy policy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) finds that the North African country’s overall strategy is very much on target, with notable advances in solar, wind and on fuel subsidy reform.

By 2020, Morocco is aiming to install 2 GW of solar, 2 GW of wind power and increase to 2 GW hydropower capacity in the country. The IEA says renewables "should represent 42% of installed capacity by 2020."

Morocco’s first commercial concentrated solar power project, the 160 MW Ouarzazate I CSP Project, was launched at last year in Ouarzazate with foreign investment and the support of multi-lateral development agencies, including Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. Last month the World Bank approved some $520 million in loans and grants to the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) to support the second and third phases of the CSP project, including development of 350 MW. In addition, the first wind farms – 600 MW — are in operation with more than 1 GW currently in construction or in the planning.

"Under political guidance from the highest level, Morocco has shown an admirable determination to play to its strengths, and in our view the National Energy Strategy set out in 2009 has taken Morocco very much in the right direction," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report on Friday in Rabat.

The IEA points out that in the last 20 years, Morocco has taken major strides in extending energy access to nearly all of its population and opening up the power sector to international investors. The country introduced an ambitious program in 1995 to extend access to electricity to the general rural population. The network now covers 98% of the population, compared with just 18% two decades ago. The development has contributed to a consistent economic growth rate of between 4% and 5% a year, the IEA says, although this has also led to a strong increase in electricity demand. The agency describes its upstream investment conditions as “attractive,” adding that Morocco is well-integrated into the regional gas and power networks, buying electricity from Spain.

Nevertheless, Morocco remains highly dependent on imported energy. More than 91% of energy supplied comes from abroad, placing a significant burden on the balance of payments and a drain on the budget. Yet the IEA stresses that the country has impressive potential in both solar and wind power.

The country’s 2009 Energy Strategy aimed to diversify the electricity fuel mix, accelerate the deployment of solar and wind, place renewed emphasis on energy efficiency, encourage foreign upstream investment and pursue regional energy sector integration.

The new IEA report says this strategy is very much on target, a view reinforced by the country’s decisions earlier this year to sharply reduce subsidies on transport fuels and on fuel oil. Indeed, the IEA adds that government agencies are now in place to promote both solar and wind power and foster research and development in renewable technologies. While the IEA says Morocco’s stated target of reaching 2 GW each of solar and wind capacity by 2020 is ambitious, "a good start has been made: wind should reach 700 MW capacity this year, and next year the first concentrated solar power (CSP) plant rated at 160 MW should come on stream."

Among its recommendations, the IEA report encourages the government of Morocco to optimize the deployment of solar power, maximizing the use of CSP at peak hours and facilitating the use of photovoltaics by accelerating work in the medium and low-voltage area currently under way in Morocco – including access to the grid. It also calls on the country to maintain the confidence of foreign investors as well as the domestic industry while encouraging more research and development in new energies and the transfer of technology. The IEA says Morocco should likewise accelerate the establishment of an energy regulator to supervise an even more open power market.