Megabucks for megawatts: How Morocco sold donors on its billion-dollar solar gamble

By Till Bruckner 18 May 2015

The Ain Beni Mathar complex, an integrated solar combined cycle power station in Morocco. The country produces no oil or gas, and currently imports over 95 percent of its total energy needs, making its economy vulnerable to hikes in global energy prices. Photo by: World Bank

A few years ago, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, the richest monarch in Africa, decided that his country should turn toward the sun. His advisers drafted an ambitious national energy strategy, aimed at generating 42 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Its flagship project comprised a complex of four solar power plants using cutting-edge technology to generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity. In May 2013, the king personally traveled into the desert to launch construction of the first plant.

Skeptics within government ministries and donor agencies quietly noted the weak points in the plan. Morocco is a lower-middle-income country with multiple competing priorities, and many of its 34 million people still live in poverty. In effect, Morocco would be footing the bill for providing two global goods, reduced carbon pollution and early stage eco-technology development.

Why should Moroccan taxpayers, poor households or struggling local industries pay extra for solar-generated power when available conventional alternatives were significantly cheaper?

“We had a big debate with the Ministry of Finance about this,” recalled Said Mouline, who heads ADEREE, the national renewable energy agency. “Per capita, Moroccans only emit a 10th as much [carbon dioxide] as Americans do, and the electricity produced by the first power plant came out at twice the market price.”

This article is for Devex Members
For full access to the content of the article sign in or join Devex.

About the author

Till bruckner
Till Bruckner

Till Bruckner is a freelance consultant who has worked extensively with and for local NGOs, including for Transparency International Georgia in 2008-2009. He is the author of the book "Aid Without Accountability: How 4.5 Billion Dollars in Aid to Georgia Helped the Rich and (Sometimes) the Poor." He is currently based in Morocco. The views expressed here are his own.

Join the Discussion