20 May 2013 – Construction of the 160 MW Ouarzazate concentrated solar power (CSP) project begun in Morocco during May 2013. The US$810 million project is expected to be completed in 2015.

A consortium led by Saudi developer ACWA Power won the contract to build the plant in September 2012, with financing coming from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

It is the first of a two-phase project, due for completion in 2020, which is expected to cover 3,000 hectares and have a generation capacity of 500 MW, enough to meet the electricity needs of Ouarzazate’s 1.5 million residents.

This project is expected to be the first of several and Morocco expects to build five new solar plants by the end of the decade with a combined production capacity of 2,000 MW at an estimated cost of US$9 billion.

The country has no significant oil and gas reserves, and in a bid for energy security is planning to raise its renewable energy production through solar and wind projects.  

The choice of CSP means that its solar power will be expensive. Morocco will include both CSP and solar photovoltaics in its solar plan, but CSP is favoured because of its reliability and dispatchability provided suitable storage mechanisms are also put in place.

However, the cost of CSP has meant that in other parts of the world such as California, developers have abandoned CSP for PV options due to a dramatic fall in PV costs over recent years.

Morocco’s aims are different, though, as it is one of the world’s most energy-poor countries, importing around 95% of its needs, according to the World Bank. Energy accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s imports and contributed to a record trade deficit of US$23.6 billion in 2012.