African Sunrise: Morocco's Solar Power Sector Continues To Heat Up

Early last week, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) announced that 50 bids were submitted for new solar projects. The bids came from a host of European based companies including Italy's Enel SpA, Spain's Abengoa SA and Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA (ACS), as well as Germany's Solar Millennium AG and Siemens AG. While discussions surrounding Morocco's energy sector have historically received marginal press, the significant investment occurring within Morocco should not come as a surprise. Currently, Morocco receives over 3,000 hours of intense sunshine annually. To take advantage of this abundant resource, the Moroccan government is planning to invest over US $9 billion in solar technology, making the country one of the most attractive renewable energy investment destinations in Africa. Specifically, Morocco is planning on creating 5 solar massive fields (and generating plants) that will be  located in the Ouarzazate, Ain Bni Mathar, Foum Al Oued, Boujdour and Sebkhat Tah regions. Collectively, the African nation is counting on significant foreign investment to support this development; investment, that will ideally help the Moroccan government achieve its plan of generating at least 2,000MW of solar energy by 2020.

While many within the renewable energy sector continue to cheer, what appears unclear - at least on the surface - is the Moroccan government's motivation to undertake such an aggressive investment. Specifically, on a continent that has significant international investment in non-sustainable energy resources, why isn't Morocco look toward more conventional energy sources including oil and gas? Unbeknown to most, Morocco is the only North African country that does not have indigenous energy resources located within border. Currently, Morocco imports 97% of its energy. This importation costs the country the equivalent of approximately 10% of its annual GDP. Moreover, this reliance continues to put pressure on the country's trade balance, while also negatively impacting public finances. Similarly, with demand for energy growing between 5% and 8% annually, Morocco has been forced to find sustainable renewable energy options in order to keep its finances stable. While geopolitical concerns exist, Morocco looks to have a bright, bright future. In fact, if Morocco can remain committed to its goals, the country stands to become one of the leading generator of renewable energy in North Africa. Overall, I believe that the next 12 - 24 months will see an increase in both the rate and amount of international investment within Morocco's renewable energy sector. In fact, judging from the initial bid responses, it is clear that many international companies are already aligning their resources to take advantage of this investment, particularly because Morocco holds tremendous potential as an energy exporting region - particularly to European nations.