The Moroccan solar program may still have a long way to go although the kingdom’s tangible advances in developing renewable energies continue to grab headlines worldwide.
Rabat : Morocco’s solar program may still have a long way to go although the kingdom’s tangible advances in developing renewable energies continue to grab headlines worldwide.
A stark contrast, however, in reporting about the green energy transition by national and international media begs stakeholders’ attention and warrants wisdom from national institutions.
In short, to diversify its energy supplies away from fossil fuels and reduce the impact on climate change, Morocco has adopted more sustainable energy practices while boosting its energy independence.
In this respect, the kingdom has set an ambitious renewable capacity target, currently at 52% by 2030, including a 2,000 megawatt (MW) solar program. By successfully commissioning multiple wind and solar power plants, Morocco has managed to achieve approximately 34% of its target over the past decade.
The impactful contribution of the solar program has particularly been applauded globally, which constitutes a testament to Morocco’s courage and commitment in the field.
However, some actors seem to opt, perhaps unwillingly, for instilling uncertainty and confusion in the program. In doing so, they risk turning an internationally envied story into a sticky situation if not managed with delicacy.
At only a quarter of the distance to the 2,000 MW solar milestone, skeptics seek a scapegoat to pin down for a fictitious “failure” of the program, while overlooking the essence of the subject matter and the complexities surrounding it.
These complexities need the aid of the onion theory and the systemic approach to unfold and grasp in view of the multitude of stakeholders involved and interests that come into play.
Only with the right perspective can those complexities be scrutinized and for a proper evaluation of the national solar program be conducted. Those complexities can easily be sensed from the magnitude of the executed CSP solar projects over the past few years.
The magnitude was echoed by world records they broke upon their inauguration in different areas: Be it the largest CSP plant record, sustainability record, corporate social responsibility record, and so forth. Those records insinuate that there is much more to CSP than the cost question fallacy.
There is a wise saying that goes like this: When you lose the way, look back where you started.
Back in 2010, the government undertook concrete actions, especially law no. 57-09, creating the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (Masen), to allow the implementation of the new national energy strategy, adopted a year earlier.
If we factor in the scarcity of endogenous fossil fuel reserves in the country, it is evident that the kingdom took a major step towards institutionalizing sustainable development, towards reducing its impact on climate change.
The move was big! Big enough that it was heard loud and clear at the international level and earned the trust and confidence of investors and other nations aspiring for successful models in the field of renewables.
In the materialization process of the country’s vision, Masen had to adhere to the requirements of the grid operator. Electricity availability during nighttime (powers) to reduce dependence on peaking plants using polluting and costly fossil fuels was a major determinant in the choice of integrating the concentrated solar power and storage technology (CSP) in the national energy portfolio.
The choice made sense then, and continues to make sense today, and will continue to make sense tomorrow. That said, the advances in renewables will continue to stimulate the debate about the most efficient, most competitive [the list of superlatives is infinite] technology choices. However, more and more experts are in favor of hybrid solar solutions (a mix of photovoltaic (PV) and CSP technologies).
A choice was made! And in this case, given the strategic importance of the program, it is fair to assume that the concerned stakeholders were involved in the deliberations leading to those choices.
This being the case, we can conclude that CSP was deployed with a certain degree of national consensus. In fact, the bids run by Masen were public and were conducted in full transparency and with a high level of professionalism and integrity.
Moreover, the tariffs of CSP have always been in the domain of public information accessible to all. More importantly, the gap was known to all, and it is supposed to be dealt with, among other things, by implementing the full program and most importantly considering the program in its entirety, not on a project-by-project or stand-alone basis.
Equally important, the national agency in charge of the materialization of the program has strategically opted to commence with the more challenging choice, being CSP.
The rationale is that more competitive yet intermittent technological solutions such as PV would be developed in parallel, which would enable the agency to trade off both the benefits and the constraints between CSP and PV for instance.
The trade-off is supposed to be the product of both the benefits and the limitations of each technology choice. Each has its own advantages and its inherent constraints.
In diversifying technological solutions serving different purposes, Masen in collaboration with relevant national institutions would, for instance, be able to set off the intermittency constraint of the PV technology on the one hand and its reduced cost on the other against both the added value of storage in CSP and the inevitable subsequent investment gap.
The argument is valid, yet we should be wary of reducing the issue to purely technical and financial considerations, hence voiding CSP of its raison d’etre. That is, to provide electricity past sunset.
Anyone familiar with the relevance of available industrial solutions would agree that CSP technology has greater potential to contribute to the advancement of the national industry in renewables and beyond; it also creates more jobs during construction and operation compared to PV for instance.
Sadly though, it looks like we let Masen select the hard choice, but instead of accelerating to reach the solar program’s overall economic equilibrium at the earliest possible, the skeptics seem determined to curb the CSP choice under the pretext that it is costly.
Their reductionist view of the issue has proven counterproductive: It has impacted the program’s execution for the past two years and left uncertainty among investors, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders.
To present the issue from a different perspective, I am going to use the marathon analogy. Not everyone decides to run a marathon; similarly, not every country decided to make the commitments Morocco did when it did, which it did confidently and resolutely.
Moreover, at around a quarter of the distance, some participants reduce their pace, and others pause or even quit the race. We all need to realize that we did not start the green transition early to quit this early.
There are still three quarters to run towards the 2,000 MW solar target. Therefore, it is judicial of the skeptics to refrain from rendering judgments about a program of which only a quarter has been achieved.
And the constructed quarter, mainly of CSP, requires at least another quarter of PV against which to offset the advantages and the limitations inherent to the physics and politics of both PV and CSP.
We can all agree that having a national debate is healthy. To err is human and we can always perform better. However, reducing multi-variable functions to single-variable equations and wrongfully resolving them just to seek the scapegoat for a fictive failure of the program is not in the country’s best interest. How to get better and do better should be the focus of the ongoing national debate.
Last but not least, the professionals in Masen and their private partners who implemented the first quarter of the solar program deserve much more respect and credit than they are currently receiving in some national media.
They tried their level best to implement the vision and the program. As citizens, we should show our support. And as national institutions, we must collaborate with Masen to ensure the sun will keep shining on CSP mirrors and PV panels in the kingdom of international solar radiance.