Analysis: Morroco’s solar energy initiative- a big dream beyond the Sahara


The potentials of solar energy have never been veiled, even though the technology behind harnessing it on a larger scale has been esoteric until recent years. In 1986, Dr Gerhard Knies, a German physicist and renewable energy expert, in his research on the potentials of solar energy found that the energy sourced from world deserts in a few hours is enough to meet global electricity needs for a whole year.

In this current climate of volatile energy prices and enhanced efforts in the fight against global warming, amplified focus and sound investment in sustainable solar energy initiatives in modern times has not come as a surprise. Many countries, regardless of where they lie in the fossil fuel abundance hierarchy, now regard renewable energy as a viable source of energy diversification and security of supply.

Solar, one of the leading renewable energy sources is now being seriously considered as one of the key non-fossil energy sources to drive a future of near zero carbon emission and environmental sustainability. According to the Information Energy Agency (IEA), by 2050, solar energy is expected to become the dominant energy source globally.

Big Dreams above the Sahara  

Morocco, a kingdom of 33.92 million people, has begun the process of developing the biggest concentrated solar power project in the world. The North African country has started making the best use of its geographical location and potentials of the Saharan Sun to generate much desired green energy.

The Ouarzazate concentrated solar power project, which is split into 4 projects (Noor I-IV) will provide almost half of the country’ energy needs by 2020, a feat which will outstrip a similar goal set by the United Kingdom by the same year. Upon completion in 2018, the four phased project will provide electricity for more than 1 million people. The first phase, Noor 1 built near the city of Ouarzazate, south – central Morocco was on opened on 4th of February this year and is already one of the largest concentrated solar power plants in the world.

The Concentrated Solar Power Project (CSP) technology, launching on African soil for the first time, generates solar power by converting concentrated light (through the help of mirrors) to generate heat, this will in turn power a steam turbine to generate energy.

The CSP technology is more advantageous – although more expensive – than the more common photovoltaic technology as it has the ability to store energy at sunset or when it is cloudy without the use of batteries. The Noor 1 solar plant has the capacity to store energy for 3 hours after sunlight and upon completion, Noor 2 and Noor 3 will have the capacity to store energy for up to 7 to 8 hours. According to the African Development Bank, the total capacity of all the solar complexes will be 2000 MW.

Shrewd Policy Implementation 

Morocco is the only North African country without any significant fossil fuels reserves. The Moroccan government for many years has struggled with guaranteeing security of energy supply as it is heavily dependent on imported energy. According to the World Bank, approximately 97% of the country’s energy needs are imported and electricity demand has been increasing by 7% on the average since 1998.

African Development Bank also forecast that Morocco’s demand for primary energy will triple while electricity demand is expected to quadruple by 2030. Talk about proactive policy formulations, with the solar initiative, Morocco aims to become resource independent and a key exporter of renewable energy to Europe within two years – another practical way of earning foreign exchange and improving balance of trade.

Ernst and Young, a multinational consulting firm ranked Morocco as the second most attractive country in the world for the development of concentrated solar energy projects.

The Ouarzazate project will also have an important bearing on the country’s carbon emission targets and international commitments. Morocco has by this time pledged to reduce carbon emission by 32% by 2030, in line with the Paris climate conference agreement- a legally binding climate deal involving 195 countries.

It is expected to avoid about 240,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year over 25 years. To put in perspective, Morocco’s energy minister emphasised the importance of this development saying “94% of all energy imported into Morocco for consumption is from fossil fuels”.

More importantly, the project will have a positive impact on unemployment. Noor 1 will generate about 1,570 employment opportunities including permanent positions and a total of 2500 jobs will be created overall.

The managers of the project ACWA energy are also engaging the academic sector and other stakeholders in the Moroccan energy industry on training and education in all areas relating to renewable energy which will have a significant impact on the long term plan to develop a local renewable energy industry. They hope to upskill technicians and operators directly from the local population.

Cost and Funding

Morocco’s green energy plans are not devoid of financial support, especially from international financiers and multilateral development banks. This is uncomplicated when your energy and environmental policies align perfectly with the carbon emission objectives of these bodies.

Under the auspices of the African Development Bank, the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and World Bank, the Morocco solar project is part of a grand investment plan developed for countries in the arid region to help the global economy ease the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In totality, the project will cost 9 billion dollars. The first phase of the project, funded by African Development Bank, the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and Moroccan treasury will cost 168 Million Euros. Besides the ADB and World Bank, the European Investment Bank, French Development Agency (AFD) and German Cooperation (KfW) are also key sources of funding for the project.


This project is good for Africa considering its environmental benefits and the ripple effect it will have on other countries within the continent with solar energy potentials. Not only does it guarantee a future of low carbon energy industry, it is sure to lead countries towards the path of sustainable and well diversified economies.

As Morocco has shown, the quest for funding for a green energy projects will likely be met with positive reception by the multilateral development banks keen to help expand green energy reserves and markets.

Sound investment in training and development of human resource on renewable energy technological know-how and the creation of a renewable energy industry are not only encouraging but crucial to securing a future of greener and well diversified energy markets. Well done Morocco.


Mondiu Jaiyesimi is an Energy Economist passionate about energy and public policy, empirical research and energy finance. He studied Energy Economics and Policy at the University of Surrey and has done extensive research work in Liquefied Natural Gas markets, UK energy markets, shale gas revolution and energy demand in developed countries.

He currently engages in independent energy consulting focusing on energy modelling, climate change and trends in oil and gas supply in Africa and other emerging markets. He is a member of the International Agency for Energy Economics and the British Institute of Energy Economics.

Victor Ajayi is an economist with a wide-ranging experience in financial sector, energy regulation and multilateral development institution. Victor holds a master’s degree in Energy Economics and Policy from University of Surrey, United Kingdom”

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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