FOCUS AFRICA – Morocco’s chase for energy security: from net importer to green energy leader

Morocco is hosting the second UNFCCC climate talks in the country’s history. With the Paris agreement already into force before the Marrakech conference, the Moroccan government has the opportunity to lead a COP focused on means and strategies to actually implement the agreement, rather than on the ratification process.

Morocco is a strategic actor of the MENA and South-Mediterranean region, despite its status of of lower middle-income economy with a per-capita GDP among the lowest in North Africa. The overall inequality rate (in GINI terms) for the country is high, according to the World Bank data. Looking at energy availability, time series show a sharp increase (see Figure 1) in the access to electricity, granted today to nearly 100% of the population.


This fact is a result of the implementation of the national rural electrification program (PERG), started in 1996: in twenty years, according to the state-owned electricity single operator ONEE (Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable) official reports, nearly 40000 villages have been connected to an energy grid reaching remarkable results in terms of rural electrification rate in 2014 (98%). More than 51000 rural households were offered photovoltaic systems up to 2012. Linearly, such an increase in electricity access (where not provided by local initiatives or autonomous generators) stimulated an already growing energy demand, which had grown by an average of 6.7%/year between 2003 and 2013.

Sources: Amegroud 2015, ONEE

To satisfy a growing domestic energy demand could be a real challenge, without own natural resources. As the only Northern African country with no own oil resources (although recent drilling activity indicated that there are both onshore and offshore unexplored sedimentary basins suitable for oil reserves), Morocco is highly dependent on imported energy: nearly 91% of all supplied energy comes from abroad. As of 2014, the national energy mix was dominated by oil (61,9% of TPES), followed by coal (21,2%), biofuels and waste (7,2%), natural gas (5,3%), and a small share (less than 1%) of renewable energy. The country also has large reserves of shale oil, but the costs of implementing the technologies to develop exploration and extraction pushed the government towards investing in the promotion of renewable energy, which is currently reshaping the country’s energy identity, along with natural gas.

The utilization of natural gas for power generation is a relatively new factor in Morocco, as imports started after the launch of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline in 1996. The infrastructure brings natural gas from Algeria through Morocco, then towards Spain and the European Union, making Morocco a strategic interconnection in the Mediterranean area. Given the precarious diplomatic relations between Morocco and its largest neighbor, partially caused by the dispute over the sovereignty of Western Sahara which also led to the closing of national borders, the provision of Algerian natural gas is secured by the necessary transit to the European Union. Morocco launched a national development plan for liquid natural gas in 2014, aiming at a massive introduction of natural gas into his energy mix with the goal of reaching a 32% share by 2025. These actions are also implemented to secure the satisfaction of the internal demand, given that the contract with Algeria is going to expire in 2021 and it is not clear whether the terms will be reconfirmed.

Energy security, an affordable energy supply and environmental sustainability have been key concepts of the Moroccan energy policy in the past years. The 2009 National Energy Strategy outlined plans and solutions to reach those goals, furthermore investing in renewable energy generation as a tool to address energy supply uncertainty. The plan aims at a 42 percent share of renewable in the installed energy generation capacity by 2020, corresponding to 2GW of wind energy, 2GW of solar energy and 2GW of hydropower energy . The renewable energy goal is envisioned to  contrast power supply shortages, the increasing fossil-fuel imports and to stimulate low-carbon development. As of 2014, the IEA considered the national strategy on target. Moreover, in its INDC Morocco pledged to reduce its GHG emissions by 32% by 2030 (with an unconditional 13% target to be financed through domestic resources) – Morocco currently accounts for a 0.16% of global emissions. The document indicates a clear strategy: to overtake 50% of electric production capacity from REs by 2025; to reduce the energy consumption by 15% by 2030 through energy efficiency improvements; to reduce substantially fossil fuels subsidies; and to increase the use of natural gas. Whether Morocco will be able to meet its Paris targets will depend on the availability of international financial and technological support. The country is however making huge progresses towards a gradual diversification of the energy mix through investments in solar plants, as the recently inaugurated Noor I in Ouarzazate. Adaptation policies enlisted in the INDC are also vital to Morocco in the near future and in energy terms, considering the importance of the hydropower sector.

According to the International Energy Agency, Morocco is well placed to become a regional leader in RE technology, given its a geographical advantage. The country is estimated to have a huge potential for the use of renewables, with ONEE already investing and developing solar programs, and owning a historical know-how in hydropower generation. However, according to some studies ONEE could at the same time represent an obstacle in the development of a clean energy market, given its dominant market position. Despite changes in the energy sector legal framework are still indicated as necessary by some policy papers, the clean energy plans are considered on track.

Recent declarations from government officials state the country is currently working at implementing renewable energy production that, as of the first months of 2016, Morocco reached a 35% share of renewable in the country’s energy mix, an astonishing result when compared to the negligible percentages of just few years ago (see Figure 3).

Source: IEA, Morocco 2014 (2014)

According to Ali Fassi Fihri, ONEE’s General Manager, the 2009 goal of 42% share of renewable energy installed capacity by 2020 will be surely met. The figure may be even overtaken as new  plants (now under construction) will be added to the grid.


(Image: El zoco. Photo Credits: César González Palomo/Flickr)