Morocco energy boss: We need to build electricity bridges between Europe and Africa

The solar thermal complex at Noor Ouarzazate in the Atlas mountains is at the heart of Morocco’s renewable energy drive, producing over 580MW of electricity. Mustapha Bakhouri explains the country’s plans to develop its renewable energy programme and build energy connections with Europe.

Mustapha Bakhouri is the president of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN). He spoke to EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.

The Moroccan government has set ambitious targets of increasing their share of energy from renewables to 42% in 2020 and a 52% share by 2030. Are these feasible targets?

Not only these targets are feasible, but we have the ambition to go beyond the levels set for 2030. As of today, production from renewables exceeds 35% with additional capacities under very advanced stages of development (NOOR Midelt Solar Complex, Koudia Al Baida and Taza wind farms) or under construction (Midelt Wind farm).

How much further can the Ouarzazate complex grow? How is the rest of Morocco’s sustainable energy ecosystem developing, and what is its impact on the wider economy?

Ouarzazate region has of course the potential to host additional solar capacities, subject to grid additional investments, however, Masen’s mandate is to develop the renewable energy ecosystem and create socio-economic development opportunities throughout the different regions of the country.

In this context, and in addition to Ouarzazate Complex, Masen has developed projects in the south of Morocco, in the Laayoune and Boujdour regions, in the North  at Koudia Al Baida and Taza and the recent development of Midelt region.

Additional solar and wind projects will be shortly launched in the different areas of the country with the objective of creating local employment and economic activities directly or indirectly related to the power plants.

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You have talked about sustainable energy partnerships with sub-Saharan African countries? Can you give more detail about how these are progressing, and with which countries?

Masen is committed to share its experience in developing renewable energy projects with the objective of fostering renewable energy deployment in the continent. In this context, a dozen cooperation agreements have been signed with sub-Saharan African countries including Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Djibouti, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Masen’s action covers a large area of activities going from technical assistance in countries such as Rwanda where we are providing technical assistance, to project development in Zambia, Nigeria or Djibouti where we are co-developing renewable energy (RE) programs with local utilities.

In addition, Masen has joined forces with international institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank to support a number of RE initiatives in Africa.

What plans are there to increase grid connectivity between Morocco and Europe? For example, last November your government and Portugal announced that a call for tenders on a $686 million, undersea 250km electricity cable connecting the two countries. How has this, and other initiatives moved forward?

Increasing grid connectivity between Morocco and Europe, through Spain and Portugal, is one of the key aspects that both sides will need to work on in the next few years, as these constitute bridges between Europe and Africa in electricity exchanges.

In fact, increasing electricity shares in both continents will, partly, rely on that parameter. On a directly related matter, it is worth noting that Morocco, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the EU launched together, a few time ago, the SET Road Map initiative, which aims at facilitating the development of inter-country corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs), as a first step.

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One of the problems facing the sustainable energy revolution is access to finance. The EU and European Investment Bank, and the German and French development agencies KfW and AfD have already been major financiers to Ouarzazate. Is there still international enthusiasm to invest further in Ouarzazate?

There is always an important appetite to finance renewable energy projects in Morocco. The institutions mentioned, the World Bank and the Africain Development Bank, are also financing the NOOR Midelt Phase I projects, which consists of solar + storage power plants. But Masen’s objective for the next years, is to leverage additional private sector financing, with the support, when needed of public financiers. We are of the view that the RE Market in Morocco is very attractive to private financiers.

How should Morocco and the EU strengthen their co-operation on energy, particularly renewables?

The EU through the European Commission by the way of NIF funds, was one of the first institutions that supported the RE initiatives in Morocco, and Masen in particular. In fact, Commission support was key in the implementation of both Ouarzazate and Midelt complexes. In the future, cooperation between Masen and EU can take several forms:

Pursuing the cooperation in the implementation of RE objectives in Morocco, notably by supporting new technologies such as storage technologies, waste to power, power to X, Interconnexions.

Fostering the exchanges of power from renewable energy between the south and the north, notably through the acceleration of the SET Road Map initiative, and joining forces in the deployment of renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan African countries, under tripartite cooperation actions.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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