Morocco’s Green Energy Potential: Europe's Ticket Away From Russian Fuel?
Morocco is trying to turn around its energy legacy, from an energy mix heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels, to becoming a net exporter of clean energy. Morocco’s sunny climate, coastline, and wide open spaces lend themselves to massive scale solar and wind farms, and its proximity to Europe puts the country in a prime position to be a key source of energy for the European Union. While the potential is enormous, so too are the challenges facing the North African nation.
The biggest challenge for Morocco will be to balance its economic needs – which will be greatly benefitted by an ongoing green energy trade with Europe – with its own energy needs. In order to develop sustainably and reach its own climate goals, Morocco must prioritize clean energy production for its own grids, but the nation’s domestic decarbonization needs could be easily overrun by Europe’s current green energy agenda.
Europe’s demand for new clean energy sources has proven to be nearly insatiable as the continent struggles to reshape its own energy markets in the wake of last year’s energy crisis. The European Continent was overwhelmingly dependent on Russian oil and gas at the start of 2022, when Russia illegally invaded Ukraine. Since then, the European Union and Russia have been on opposite ends of an all-out power war in which both try to use their pivotal trade relationship as leverage for their own political agendas.
As a result, Europe has been scrambling to move away from Russian fossil fuels and to kickstart its own green energy transition. Already, Europe has invested heavily into homegrown clean energy production and shattered its own clean energy production records, and has just agreed to raise its clean energy commitments to even higher levels. Reaching that goal will require the development of a huge amount of new clean energy resources. This is where Morocco comes in. Unlike most European countries, Morocco has lots of undeveloped land suitable for massive solar and wind farms, which require as much as ten times more land area than coal and natural gas, and the national policy environment is open to its development.
While Morocco has enormous production potential, however, the country would essentially have to start up a clean energy sector from scratch. At present, Morocco imports 90% of its energy, most of which comes in the form of fossil fuels. It will require a huge amount of investment and infrastructure development to bring the sector up to speed, and Europe is offering a major assist to make it happen. Already this year, the EU has earmarked €624 million ($688.6 million) over various projects to support Morocco’s green energy transition, as well as “tackling irregular migration, and facilitating key reforms in crucial areas like social protection, climate policy and public administration,” according to reporting from Arab News.
Many view the potential trade relationship between Morocco and Europe as a win-win: Morocco’s economy would receive a much needed stimulus through the creation of major contracts offering lots of jobs, and Europe would secure some of the energy that it needs to meet its own energy security and decarbonization needs while also diversifying its energy portfolio. Producing wind and solar energy for export to Europe via undersea cables could create as many as 28,000 jobs per year, according to the World Bank's lead economist for the region, Moez Cherif. This is particularly huge when you consider that Morocco’s unemployment rate is currently 11.2%. Cherif also said that by saying yes to Europe, Morocco could "position itself as an industrial hub for investments for exports of green industrial products."
However, there are some considerable drawbacks as well. For one thing, there are significant environmental concerns about building such major projects in the fragile Saharan ecosystem without proper environmental assessments. For another, there are concerns that such contracts would economically benefit relatively few Moroccans while leaving the wider populace without what it really needs – clean and affordable energy for its own use. Today, 600 million people across the African continent still lack access to energy, and in order to continue to develop African economies without significantly contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions and man-made climate change, Africa will have to “leap-frog” over cheap fossil fuels and straight to clean energy development.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the Bay Area, and music/culture reviews.
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