Morocco: The new renewable energy superpower IF….

Morocco is making headlines to become the renewable energy superpower with the world’s biggest concentrated solar plant in Ouarzazate. And indeed, it is not only this project suggesting Morocco is the new pioneer on RE: King Mohammed VI called on the Ministry of Energy to formulate a roadmap within the next month to increase the growth of the renewable energy sector and to reinforce synergies among stakeholders. In September, the Moroccan Governing Council approved two amendments of bills which are key for renewable energy development in the country: bill number 48-15, regulating the electricity sector in the country, and bill number 58-15, which complements the renewable energy law 13-09. Both amendments can been seen as a move to show the government’s commitment and substantial efforts in the promotion and liberalisation of the renewable energy sector.

So, has Morocco actually found the answer to meet the country’s growing energy demand, increase independency from energy imports, decarbonise its energy system and achieve development at the same time?

After listening to experts, academics and policy makers at the WFC roundtable on “100% RE in Morocco: how and on which model?” held in Rabat last month, I would say: Yes BUT…

“Yes”, because the amendments of the policy framework suggest a hopeful renewable energy future for the country. For example, bill 48-15 aims at establishing a new independent regulatory institution called ANRE (Autorité Nationale de Régulation de l’Électricité), which will clarify roles and responsibilities of all actors involved in the electricity transmission and distribution, and the management of medium voltage electrical system. Until now, regulation fell primarily on the state-owned utility ONE (Office National d’Électricité), which is also responsible for the electricity provision and transmission system operation. This institutionalisation aims at accompanying the changes in Morocco’s RE sector, and at sending a strong signal to the industrial sector and private investors that there is political commitment for RE; as pointed out by Abdelkader Amara, Minister of Energy in Morocco.

Moreover, bill 58-15 will allow connecting RE production facilities to the low voltage grid. Similarly, it will allow RE producers connected to the high voltage or very high voltage grid to sell up to 20% of their electricity surplus to ONE.

And this brings me to the big “BUT”: For Morocco to unleash the incredible renewable energy potential, be a pioneer in the region and achieve sustainable development, it needs to establish a robust, coherent and clear legislative framework which builds on a decentralised and inclusive approach. And this is not the case yet.

A decentralised and inclusive approach must, first and foremost, enable local governments and regions to engage in the transition and empower them to establish independent systems of electricity production. Unfortunately, the current policy framework excludes small and medium sized projects, hinders private and local distribution networks and hampers local governments and citizens to invest in local renewable energy production.

For example, the law 13-09 does not specify access conditions to the low voltage grid, which is very important to stabilise the grid, and to facilitate and optimize the deployment of renewable energy. In fact, the Moroccan legislative frameworks needs to expand eligibility for selling surplus from renewables to producers connected to the low-voltage and medium-voltage grid. Also, the current cap of 20% surplus which is allowed to be fed into the high voltage or very high voltage grid, introduced by bill number 58-15, needs to be increased.

Indeed, if Morocco wants to solve its pressing energy crisis, it needs to go beyond the current efforts and give priority grid access to electricity from renewable sources. Also, the government needs to create beneficial conditions for self-producers and small and medium-sized investors. At present, legislation is vague in this regard, with not a single mention to the status of “self-producer”.

Last but not least, the needed amendments in the legislation must be combined with ambitious targets beyond 2020. Establishing medium and long-term targets would provide a pathway for how RE can solve key challenges such as raising energy demand, high energy dependency, raising emissions which worsen climate change, as well as the lack of skilled and educated people. A reliable long-term renewable energy target would give a clear mandate to actors of this transition (from individuals to corporations), it would reduce the risk of competing policy goals and mixed signals (as it is the case today) and would thus provide policy security for investors.

I am therefore convinced that Morocco’s current commitment to RE is indeed the right answer for solving some of the major challenges the country is facing. Nevertheless, in order to deliver in time and at scale, as well as to ensure sustainable development for Morocco’s people, the government must revise its strategy and empower new actors to engage in the energy market.

The good news is that with Morocco being the host country of the next UNFCCC conference 2016, we are in a favourable timeframe to show the country’s strategic position regarding RE and take the lead in the region. As the Moroccan press highlighted a few weeks ago already, the motto must be: “Énergies renouvelables: Plus vite et plus loin!” (Renewable energy: further and quicker!)