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Morocco: an energy ambassador for emerging economies
30/11 - 2016

Morocco: an energy ambassador for emerging economies

Morocco is a concrete example for emerging countries that solving climate change is a unique opportunity for profit and job creation and not an expensive problem requiring financial and behavioral sacrifices. Its renewable energy strategy is one of the most ambitious in the world and its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is on track with the 2° mark.

The Kingdom of Morocco was fully credible for hosting the COP22 conference, thanks to the country’s initiative, and in particular to the ongoing commitments and efforts of key figures such as Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Foreign Minister and President of COP22, and Hakima El Haite, current Minister Delegate in Charge of Environment and Climate Champion. This conference, under the leadership of UNFCCC's Patricia Espinoza, went beyond the work of governments to engage other actors such as businesses, cities and NGOs that also have a crucial role to play in implementing the Paris Agreement.

Many other initiatives took place in the margin of the main event. To name but one, the Moroccan Agency for Energy Efficiency (Agence Marocaine pour l’Efficacité Energétique – AMEE) under the impetus of its Director General, Said Mouline, and Secretary General, Sonia Mezzour, committed to develop energy efficiency on the African continent. This type of accord falls within the context of south-south cooperation destined to help countries reduce their energy bill. That being said, European governments should also understand that investments in sub-Saharan Africa would be cheaper than the cost of millions of migrants trying to escape from poverty across the Mediterranean Sea...

Unlike some of its neighbors in the region, Morocco has close to no identified fossil fuel resources and depends heavily on imports with more than 90% of the energy used coming from abroad. In recent years, the country has witnessed a continuous growth in energy demand driven by economic development and rising living standards. In response, His Majesty the King Mohamed VI rolled out an ambitious and solution-oriented energy strategy aimed at meeting 42% by 2020, and 52% by 2030, of its total energy demand with solar, wind and hydropower resources, with equal proportions of installed capacity for each resource, and recently committed to reach 100% domestic renewable energy production as soon as possible. It is to be noted that ten years ago a very well-known consulting firm discouraged the King to do so, claiming that it would never be profitable. The reality is that solar and wind energy produce electricity for cheaper than fossil energy! 

Many countries talk about implementing clean technologies and renewable energies to meet their environmental targets, but in doing so, Morocco has already demonstrated concrete solutions in this direction and given itself the means to accomplish its goals. For example, NOOR 1 – the first phase of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plant – was inaugurated in February of this year. As patrons, André Borschberg and I were present when the construction was launched back in 2012 and symbolically brought the first solar cell with Solar Impulse 1 from Switzerland, offering it to Mustapha Bakkoury, Chairman of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN).

Barely four years later, while we were making our dream of a clean future a reality in the air with Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), Mohamed VI was successfully making his vision a reality on the ground in Ouarzazate. And this is only the beginning. The next phases of the project – NOOR 2, 3 and 4 – will enable to reach a storage capacity of eight hours (vs three currently available), storing enough energy during the day to produce electricity at night. Because just like with Si2, the times at which we need energy is not necessarily the times at which we produce it, the solution lies in finding efficient ways to store and manage energy produced from intermittent renewable sources. And this goes for solar installations (PV and thermal), but also for wind, hydropower and so on.

In fact, the wind energy sector is also a very appealing market in Morocco, attracting massive investment. For instance, the first blade factory in the Middle East and Africa currently being set up to manufacture 207-feet-long wind turbine blades is being financed by multi-million dollar packages from big players. Once fully up and running, the production site should employ 650 people, generating jobs and stimulating the local economy. For the German engineering giant leading the operations, this was “an attractive investment opportunity which stands on its own two feet, and the most competitive way of providing electricity, as there is no need for subsidies to make wind energy happen in Morocco.”

This is proof that today, clean technologies and renewable energies are finally reliable and profitable and that their implementation should not require any behavioral or financial sacrifices. We need to embrace these new solutions, not because they are “eco-logical,” but because they are “logical.” Even if climate change didn’t exist in the world, renewable energies and clean technologies would make sense: to reduce CO2 emissions and protect natural resources, but also to create jobs, generate profits and boost sustainable growth. The positive benefits of Morocco’s energy strategy are already demonstrating that.

What is more, Morocco is also on the path of providing significant leadership when it comes to climate action in the international arena. The country has submitted a strong INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) – setting high greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. It has committed to an unconditional 13% reduction by 2030 and a 32% reduction on condition it gains access to new sources of finance and enhanced support.

Needless to say, that over the past months, the eyes of the world have been set on Morocco when it comes to the planet’s environmental agenda. And we couldn’t have asked for a better example for emerging economies. The country’s vision showcases existing solutions rather than intangible problems. Its energy strategy capitalizes on the benefits of renewable and efficient energy rather than on the costs of protecting the environment.

Morocco’s evolution over the past half-decade demonstrates that economic growth and protection of the environment can go hand in hand; it is today possible to bridge the gap between ecology and economy.

Bertrand Piccard 

Blog published in partnership with Caran d'Ache