Africa’s largest wind farm, located at Tarfaya in south-western Morocco, which will have a 300 MW capacity, has started generating electricity. The wind farm’s 131 turbines were erected on 10,000 hectares along the wind-blown southern Atlantic coast and will be fully operational in October 2014.

Engerati reports that work started in Tarfaya at the beginning of 2013, and 88 turbines have been erected so far. This is according to Mohammed Sebti of the Moroccan firm, Nareva Holding, which is working in partnership with France’s GDF Suez on the project.

The first kilowatts were delivered at the beginning of April 2014, generated by the 44 wind turbines which have been connected to the grid. Costing around US$690 million, the wind farm will be the continent’s biggest, surpassing Ethiopia’s Ashegoda project, with its 84 turbines and 120 MW capacity.

While solar power remains at the top of Morocco’s list, it is not as environmentally friendly as wind power since solar power generation needs water for mirror washing. While water usage for this purpose is currently low, it will increase as the number of solar farms continues to grow. The south-west is the focus of Morocco’s wind plans, with the smaller Akhfennir plant, around 100 kilometres to the east of Tarfaya, already producing 100 MW from 60 turbines.

In 2013 Morocco officially launched the construction of a 160 megawatt solar power plant near the desert city of Ouarzazate, which should be completed by 2015. State power utility ONE’s chairman Ali Fassi Fihri says some Moroccan wind farms are already generating power more cheaply than coal-fired plants.

The Tarfaya region lies on the edge of Western Sahara, a disputed territory larger than the United Kingdom, most of which is under Moroccan control, but with the Algeria-based Polisario Front campaigning for independence since 1973. A 50 MW wind farm already exists at Foum el Oued, near Western Sahara’s main city of Laayoune, and other projects are planned, according to Morocco’s Economic, Social and Environmental Council.

But, attracting foreign investment and participation in the country’s wind plans for the territory may prove to be difficult. Morocco is one of the world’s most energy-poor countries, importing around 95% of its needs since it has no hydrocarbon reserves of its own, according to the World Bank. Energy imports accounted for more than a quarter of the country’s total imports two years ago, contributing to a 7.9% increase in the trade deficit to a record US$23.6 billion.

In response, the government has launched a plan to generate 4,000 MW from wind and solar power. The country’s aim is to cover 42% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020. The renewable energy plans could be a big boost to the economy since it could eventually cut Morocco’s annual imports of fossil fuels by the equivalent of 2.5 million tonnes of oil, according to ONE. Morocco aims to eventually export some of its renewable energy to Europe via undersea cables. The success of this project could pave the way for Algeria and Tunisia to follow suit.

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