Genesis Morocco 2006-2011, A Retrospective
2006. Back then, it was all very remote, renewable energy seemed to be a far fetched luxury reserved for a few developed nations, since at best it could be considered a sideshow due to the nature of its unstable baseload. Still even at the time Morocco was actively pursuing the development of its wind capacity.
What I knew back then for a fact, is that Morocco with its situation, insolation metrics, availability of land, proximity and linkage to a market such as the EU, was ideal for us to engage in a massive solar energy scheme. However the incentive to do so was like I said, remote. I pursued my train of thoughts about what would be doable with generous amounts of renewable energy when conditions would be right the keywords being cost competitive. Sure selling it abroad was an option, but more essentially we could use it to address another pressing concern, that of water scarcity. Solving the water issue allows us to secure food autonomy, another important question for Morocco who imports 300 000 tons of wheat annually.
That is how the whole idea of project Genesis came into shape, using cheap renewable energy to power desalination stations located on the coastline. The main cost of desalination is energy, it is quite energy intensive, offsetting it thanks to renewables made sense. I got deeply involved in studying the general framework down to the details of technologies of interest. I did this for a while; a blogger can be sometimes a voice in the wilderness. However I noticed that the blog was regularly visited by people from worldwide interested in the various topics covered, so I kept doing it.
2007. Prices of oil skyrocketed, it was the trigger that sent everyone, including some middle east oil producing countries into scrambling together renewable energy strategies. Lots of agitation around DESERTEC, which is a regional initiative with huge potential, but at the time the regional framework of the Maghreb Arab Union was stalled, frankly it never really took off, so my opinion was that Morocco had to go it alone with its green agenda and not wait any longer as the aftermath of the oil price spike was difficult for us to stomach.
2009. The National Solar initiative. Very excited about that, the materialization of the solar component of project Genesis. True we have yet to see any moves towards developing water desalination capacity, but building up renewable energy capacity is the building block to start with to make desalination affordable in amounts that allow for reclaiming arid land for an accrued agrarian production, which is after all the backbone of our economy. Also the Copenhagen conference, a complete flop.
Our motivations are similar to those of other developing countries engaging in renewable programs, our energy imports are paid for in hard earned foreign currency and constitute the second expenditure post after servicing debt. You want to cut what you can of that, in order to reallocate the savings. Plus nothing guarantees us against yet another spike in oil prices which would again take its toll on our budget.
2011. The Arab spring and its impact on renewables, with the collapse of regimes that impeded progress for UMA as a strategic option for the region, we can look forward to a renewed cooperation with the Tunisia and Libya. UMA as a strategic option for Morocco is actually inscribed in our new constitution. An initiative along the lines of DESERTEC might be just what UMA needs right now, a federating project for the countries of the region on a grand scale. However I’m content with the fact that we aren’t waiting for it to happen by miracle or solely relying on foreign cap and good will.
What I can say so far, is that renewables wise, the numbers have the potential to improve Morocco's living standards considerably. Take for example EDF, the French energy giant, it produces 128 GW yearly (2008 figure) mainly nuclear power, reaping $93 Bn yearly . We could do the same here, in a sustainable manner.
The revenues could double our GDP. We didn’t have an industrialization revolution, but we can have an energy revolution, or rather reconversion, there is nothing revolutionary in CSP, our solar technology of choice so far, its actually pretty low tech. Its the possibility of translating from a net energy importer into a net energy exporter and doing so without disposing of fossil fuels that is revolutionary, its never been done before.
Will it materialize? Morocco has a track record of implementing large scale programs, such as the PAGER for rural access to water or the PERG for rural electrification, and doing so efficiently. The question that remains is one of scale. Morocco has pumped $9 Bn in its program. Given the weight of our debt and other priorities such as the INDH, the figure tells a lot about our degree of dedication in pursuing a renewable energy strategy.
As for our stated objective of reaching a 42% renewables target in our energy mix, very few countries worldwide can pretend to such ambitions. And if we succeed, as I believe we will, then what is stopping us having reached 42% in 2020 to transition toward 100% or more. This and Morocco’s solid record on the environment, puts Morocco at the forefront of the fight against global warming and directly addresses the challenge of sustainable development. It also signifies for Morocco the opportunity of becoming one of the very few countries on a path to become carbon neutral, that is economies that do not contribute to worsen the climate change problem.
Of course we could be burning coal for decades and not bother, its cheap and available, but we chose to do things differently and that comes at a cost. Since the problem is global, we need cohesive financial instruments to boost our energy transition.
Morocco has an important debt, held mostly by developed countries. The very same countries that couldn't agree on a financial mechanism to help developing countries alleviate climate change. Debt is just such an instrument in my opinion, debt conversion to be precise. There is currently $22.69 billion (31 December 2010 est.) of Moroccan debt held by foreign governments and financial institutions, it is hard to justify such myopia since these could be converted into investments, precisely in the renewable energy field.
If it can be done here, it can be replicated elsewhere and thus provide developed countries with an instrument to contribute to developing and poor countries efforts to address climate change without emptying their pockets, a proposition that failed to materialize in Copenhagen. The closest such initiative has been a proposition by Mexican president Calderon for a global green fund. Morocco should be actively engaging these debt operators to propose attractive debt conversion scheme that allow for us to pay them back, sooner then later, and at the same time dispose of sufficient leeway to build up our energy infrastructure.
There is also some shortsightedness at the local level. The state is pretty much engaged in macro programs, which is good, but it hasn't acted towards the deregulation of the energy market to allow for private cap national and foreign, to engage into such investments, and more essentially it has yet to come up with incentives that make installment of solar panels at home owner level a desirable option or integrate them in the delivery of its social housing structures.
Renewable energy buy back from home owners is perhaps a bit far fetched for now but has to be pursued in order for us to dispose a a decentralized distributed energy production capacity. Studies conducted have shown that the little numbers add up to make up for quite an impressive number of gigawatts as is the case in Germany.
As for the future of this blog, well its an ongoing project, the various topics, energy, water, technology and sustainable development are enough to keep any blogger happy and busy for years to come. The next big deadline for Morocco is 2020, but a lot of things should happen in the interval. National energy market deregulation, accrued regional integration or a technological disruption such as progress in hydrogen processing and storage, the missing link in the renewable energy value chain, are all likely to happen in this coming decade.