Morocco’s Bold Solar Ambitions Hit a Snag Over Technology Dispute – BNN Breaking

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In the sweeping deserts of Morocco, a groundbreaking endeavor poised to redefine renewable energy in the region confronts unforeseen hurdles. The planned $2 billion, 800 MW Noor Midelt I plant, heralded as a beacon of progress, now grapples with delays stemming from a sharp dispute over its technological blueprint. At the heart of the contention is a clash between the traditional photovoltaic (PV) systems and the innovative, yet costlier, concentrated solar power (CSP) technology.


The Heart of the Dispute

Originally, the Noor Midelt I project, awarded to a consortium led by EDF Renouvelables in 2019, was envisioned as a hybrid marvel combining the immediacy of PV energy production with the lasting power supply of CSP. This dual-technology approach intended to capitalize on the strengths of both systems: the cost-effectiveness of PV and the storage capabilities of CSP. Yet, as the project moved forward, the Moroccan Energy Ministry and the national grid operator ONEE voiced concerns, advocating for a shift exclusively towards PV or an alternative battery storage solution over CSP’s thermal salt energy storage.

The pushback from ONEE and the Energy Ministry, further compounded by the delays attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, has significantly stalled the project’s momentum. Despite these challenges, MASEN, the state energy agency, along with EDF Renouvelables, insists that the project is nearing its final stages of development, a sentiment echoed by their commitment to overcoming these technological impasses.


Learning from the Past

The shadows of Morocco’s previous solar ventures loom large over the Noor Midelt I project. The Noor Ouarzazate complex, once a crowning achievement of the country’s renewable energy initiatives, has faced its share of operational dilemmas. These issues have not only cast a pall over CSP’s reliability but also inflamed the current debate over the future of Noor Midelt I. The operational challenges encountered by the Noor Ouarzazate complex underscore a significant reconsideration of CSP technology’s viability, especially given its higher costs in comparison to PV and wind energy solutions.

Amidst these technological crossroads, the economic, social, and environmental council of Morocco has voiced its recommendation to pivot away from CSP, citing its disproportionate costs and the operational deficit it has imposed on MASEN at the Noor Ouarzazate complex. Yet, in defense of CSP, MASEN highlights its indispensable role in addressing peak grid demands through its storage capabilities, presenting a nuanced argument for its continued exploration.


A Path Forward

As discussions unfurl and negotiations continue, the financial underpinnings of the Noor Midelt I project, supported by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, remain steadfast. The resolution of this technological stalemate will not only shape the trajectory of Morocco’s renewable energy landscape but also set a precedent for future solar projects worldwide.

The journey of the Noor Midelt I plant, from its ambitious inception to its current impasse, encapsulates the complex interplay of innovation, economics, and policy shaping the future of renewable energy. As Morocco navigates these turbulent waters, the global community watches closely, awaiting the outcome of this pivotal project that straddles the nexus of technological advancement and sustainable development.

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