Amina Benkhadra,
Energy Minister
 
4 June 2010 – In November 2009 Morocco announced it will install 2 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020. Morocco has launched one of the world’s largest solar energy projects costing an estimated $9 billion. The aim of the project is to generate 2,000 megawatts of solar generation capacity by the year 2020. Five solar power stations are to be constructed.

"Morocco is open to all forms of partnership as long as the foreign firms have the capabilities to bring expertise, technology and know-how. We are looking for public-private as well as national-and-foreign partnerships," the country’s Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra has said.

According to Morocco’s national electricity utility, the project could use photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies that will cover 10,000 hectares in Ouarzazate, Ain Bni Mathar, Foum Al Oued, Boujdour and Sebkhat Tah.

The first plant will be commissioned in 2015, and the entire project in 2019. Once completed, the solar project will provide 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity generation.

The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, has been established to lead the project. MASEN has invited expressions of interest in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of the first of the five planned solar power stations, the 500-megawatt plant in the southern town of Ouarzazate. Details of this project, whose submission deadline closes on 24 May, can be found at the link below.

When finished in 2020, the five solar plants will account for 38% of Morocco’s total installed powergeneration capacity, while covering 20% of its total electricity requirements.

Morocco, the only North African country to have a power cable link to Europe, aims to benefit from the €400bn ($573.8bn) expected to come from the ambitious pan-continental Desertec Industrial Initiative. It was in July last year that a group of a dozen mainly German companies, including major renewable energy players such as E.ON, Siemens and RWE, launched their vision for Desertec.

The Desertec project envisages the construction of an ambitious network of wind farms, PV parks, and concentrating solar power projects, to be built across North Africa capable of providing 15% of Europe Union’s electricity requirements.

Under the plans, a chain of solar farms in the Gulf and North Africa would be linked to hydro-electric plants in Scandinavia and the European Alps, onshore and offshore wind farms in the Baltic and North Sea, along with marine energy and biomass power facilities.

How will the project work? The initiative will create vast fields of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants – arrays of mirrors which focus the sun’s energy to turn water into steam that will drive electrical turbines. The power will then flow through a network of low loss transmission cables to pipe electricity into the existing European grid, via Spain.

The Desertec plan is supported by a consortium of European governments, non-governmental organisations and industrial corporations. The aim is to provide 15% or more of Europe and the Middle East’s electricity needs with solar power by 2050.

A map of Desertec’s plan shows a chain of solar power plants throughout the Arabian Gulf linked by the supergrid to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa and into southern Europe. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers also argued that Europe and North Africa could achieve “complete independence” from fossil fuels by 2050 and that all the technologies necessary are already in place. Egypt’s first modern solar thermal large-scale facility is almost complete with Germany’s Solar Millennium on track to complete the 150 megawatt solar thermal plant which is seen as a template for the series of solar farms that form part of the Desertec project.

Saudi Arabia is at present considering participating in the project, according to industry reports. Morocco is expected to be the site of further pilot schemes – a natural choice as the country is connected to Spain by a sub-sea electricity cable.

The Desertec initiative, which includes Munich Re, E.ON, Siemens and others alongside the non-profit Desertec Foundation, was launched in Germany in 2009. Dr Gerhard Knies, Chairman of the foundation’s supervisory board, pointed out: “Within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year.”

The Desertec initiative has given itself three years to set up a policy framework within the EU and the Middle East and North Africa to adequately fund and transport renewable energy from the desert to Europe.

The sheer scale of the Desertec plan illustrates that the world is waking up to the fact that the Middle East has the potential to become one of the foremost producers of renewable energy.

The task is already underway with Abu Dhabi being home to the Masdar project – the world’s first carbon neutral city – and the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency which is considering projects to produce solar and wind energy in the UAE and the rest of the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia is also planning to become a solar energy exporter and is building its first solar powered desalination plant. Qatar is in serious talks with investors to build a $1 billion solar power project. Solar projects are also at various stages of planning and implementation in Oman, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

Jordan is looking to produce 7 per cent of its energy requirements through renewable sources by 2015; Abu Dhabi 7 per cent by 2020, and Kuwait 5 per cent by 2020. Egypt announced a goal of 20 percent renewable power by 2020, though less than two percent would come from solar energy. The concept behind Desertec is the achievement of a sustainable supply of electricity for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa up to the year 2050. It shows that a transition to competitive, secure and compatible supply is possible using renewable energy sources and efficiency gains, with fossil fuels as backup for balancing power.

Close cooperation between the EU and MENA for market introduction of renewable energy and interconnection of electricity grids by high-voltage direct-current transmission is the key to securing future energy supplies.

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