In 2009 Morocco launched its solar plan as part of its ambitions to generate 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020, with 14% coming from solar. The first outcome of this plan was the completion of Noor I, the world’s largest solar energy project, in Ouarzazate in February 2016. Authorities are now looking to build on this success and further increase solar capacity by identifying new areas for the development of similar large-scale solar stations across the kingdom.
The Morocco Solar Plan (MSP) was launched with the aim of installing 2000 MW of solar capacity by 2020. The initiative aims to significantly boost the share of solar power to 14% of the country’s energy mix. As such, the plan outlines the construction of five major solar complexes spread over an area of 10,000 ha, with an estimated investment of $9bn (€8.1bn). Thus far, Morocco’s solar sector had been fairly limited, comprising only a single small-scale 20-MW solar plant developed by the National Office of Electricity and Water Supply (Office national de l’eau et de l’électricité, ONEE) in 2010.
In a bid to oversee the development of solar-powered plants, the government established the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) in 2010, a limited company which is equally owned by the Moroccan government, ONEE, the Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Société d’Investissements Energétiques. The entity is in charge of feasibility assessment, design and development of solar projects in Morocco. It serves as a sole lender to energy projects by consolidating all the concessional loans provided by the borrowers, mainly international financial institutions. “Morocco has set up a unique and attractive business model to develop solar energy with the implementation of a structure such as MASEN, which serves simultaneously as an off-taker of electricity, lender and shareholder in each project company,” Vincent Dewulf, deputy managing director at ACWA Power Morocco, told OBG.
The first concentrated solar power (CSP) mega-project developed by MASEN is the 580-MW Noor solar complex in Ouarzazate. Divided into four sections, the plant is based on a build-own-operate-transfer model and supported by a 25-year fixed-term power purchasing agreement with ONEE.
The project’s first phase, Noor I, was awarded in 2012 to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power International and its Spanish technology partner SENER. Based on SENER solar thermal parabolic trough collectors, the solar station, which started production in February 2016, boasts an installed capacity of 160 MW, as well as three-hour storage capabilities, providing 650,000 people with solar electricity from dawn until three hours after sunset. “The development of CSP technologies have been prioritised in Morocco in virtue of their storage capacities, as there is a time lag between solar production’s peak hours during the day and demands’ peak hours at nights,” Sergio Relloso, an engineer at SENER, told OBG.
Noor I’s contracted sale price was set at $0.17 (€0.15) per KWh, 25% lower than initial cost projections. “The continuous drop in prices of solar technologies combined with the implementation of efficient financial mechanisms have allowed solar-powered projects such as NOOR to approach grid parity faster than initially predicted,” Obaid Amrane, board member at MASEN, told OBG. Estimated at a cost of $1bn (€900.3m), the project has been 85% financed by public investors, including the Moroccan government, MASEN and international financial institutions.
Noor II & Noor III
In January 2015 authorities awarded the Noor II and Noor III sections to a new consortium led by ACWA Group and SENER for an estimated value of $2bn (€1.8bn). “Noor II consists of a 200-MW CSP plant, which integrates SENER parabolic trough collectors to the grid, a technology previously employed in Noor I, whereas Noor III is a 150-MW CSP plant that presents new technology tested by SENER in the 20-MW Gemasolar plant in Spain,” Relloso told OBG. “The NOOR III technology uses thousands of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a central tower which in turn generates energy.”
Pricewise, ACWA Power offered a power tariff per KWh at Dh1.36 (€0.12) per KWh for Noor II and Dh1.42 (€0.13) per KWh for Noor III. To finance the project, MASEN secured funds from the World Bank ($519m, €467.2m) German development bank KfW ($670m, €603.2m) and the rest from the African Development Bank, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank. The projects are expected to help save some 1.1m tonnes of CO equivalent emissions for every year the plant is in operation. “There has been a significant technological shift between Noor I and Noor II and III, with the new plants more than doubling thermal storage capacities, 7.5 hours for Noor II and 8.5 hours for Noor III,” Amrane told OBG. “As such, these plants are able to dispatch a record-high amount of power generation, beyond day time.”
Noor PV I
In 2015 MASEN launched a request to begin the qualification process for the development of the photovoltaic (PV) phase of NOOR (NOOR PV I), which covers three solar PV plants, including NOOR Ouarzazate, NOOR Laayoune and NOOR Boujdour, for a total capacity of 170 MW. In December 2015 20 consortia were pre-qualified by MASEN, and the tendering process should progress through 2016. Once completed, the full Noor-Ouarzazate project is expected to provide power to more than 1.1m people and will account for nearly 18% of Morocco’s annual renewable electricity generation.
In January 2016 MASEN launched a call for expressions of interest for the development of the first phase of the Noor Midelt (NoorM I) solar power project. According to a press release issued by MASEN, the project is expected to have a capacity of 400 MW and include one or several power plants with a hybrid technology, combining CSP with PV. The Noor Midelt site covers a surface of about 2400 ha, located some 25 km north-east of the town of Midelt. Construction is expected to start by the end of the 2017.
Over the years, authorities have put a stronger emphasis on local content as a means to further support the local economy, create jobs and develop new industrial segments. “In Noor I we already achieved a local content rate of about 32%, a level slightly higher than expected. Now we expect with Noor II and Noor III to further raise the local content rate to about 35-40%,” Amrane told OBG.
Amrane went on to explain that Moroccan companies have been involved in civil engineering activities such as earthwork or in the production of metallic structures. MASEN has been encouraging Moroccan companies to expand their knowledge base by helping to establish partnerships with technology importers. This development should allow local companies to gain in competitiveness and hone expertise.
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