The Solar Future of the Moroccan Economy by Sookrit Malik

by tuftsigl
Jul 11

There is little disagreement amount the fact that sustainable energy the key to our future. Even though new technological developments like fracking have reinvigorated our hope in the extension of the conventional energy deadline, the understanding that there is a limited amount of crude oil and natural gas cannot be disputed. This idea of a looming deadline, coupled with the need to seek an environmentally friendly source of energy, has led to the ‘Moroccan Solar Energy Plan’. Morocco was nation that needed to import 97% of its energy requirements from other resource rich countries in the MENA region. However, this disadvantage seems to have led it to champion the fight for large-scale renewable energy, after all, now it seeks to become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy.

On the 4th of February, the Ouarzazate Solar Plant was switched on in Morocco. This is the world’s largest concentrated solar plant which will be powering over a million homes by 2018 while reducing the carbon emissions by an estimated 760,000 tons per year. It isn't the sheer size of the plant or its use of concentrating solar power (CSP) technology that sets it apart, rather, it is the vision and institutional framework around it that does. This plan intends to power 42% of the nation with renewable electric power by 2020.

From the perspective of a technocrat like me, this project seemed like the forefront of our generations battle for sustainable energy. But it was only when I spoke to the people and experts on the ground that I realized that the Moroccan Solar Energy plan was much more than battle for sustainable energy, it is also a battle to help its unsustainable economy. The impact of this native energy generation capability on the government’s budget cannot be understated. For a country that is struggling with the highest rate of youth unemployment in the last decade, Morocco is striving to fight the structural factors that have dominated its economy. These investments in renewable energy are one such fight that could yield very profitable results. However, there is more at stake her than cheaper and more sustainable energy.

One of the three primary objectives of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), the public-private partnership that oversee’s the projects, is to “contribute to the development of national expertise”. The importance of this contribution to national expertise is clearly linked to the need for providing the highly skilled labor with employment. The government needs to inject the economy with projects that require the skills and knowledge that is being wasted by the rising number of unemployed youth with post-graduate degrees in STEM fields. Even though MASEN has set up an incubator to enable entrepreneurial initiatives in the realm of renewable energy, the country clearly needs much more thought about how this skilled employment deficit can be tackled.

Understanding the impact of the Moroccan Solar Energy plan on the economy, however, remains a very complicated task. Some economists argue that it the the ‘rate of integration’ of solar technologies in MASEN supply chains that will determine its contribution to national expertise while others support building these projects by importing the necessary materials so that the government has more room to invest wisely in the future of the economy. The Ouarzazate Solar Plant is just the beginning and MASEN’s plans are much grander. How the Moroccan economy behaves, however, remains to be seen.