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Demonstrating the Viability of Solar Thermal Power in Morocco

Accelerating clean energy technology to reduce greenhouse emissions

April 15, 2014

The Ain Beni Mathar ISCC solar field 

Drawing from a multi-lateral partnership, Morocco pioneered the first plant of its kind in operation in the world. The Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC) Project, also known as Ain Beni Mathar project, is a 472 MWe power plant which integrates a 20 MWe parabolic trough solar field. It contributed to the global learning of concentrated solar power (CSP) technology in order to drive down its costs to commercially competitive levels through economies of scale and innovation. The project was part of a portfolio of similar demonstration projects in Egypt, Mexico and India financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Morocco’s electricity demand was increasing rapidly at 8% per year due to strong economic growth, a growing population and successful policies for increasing electricity access. Despite intensified electricity conservation and demand side management (DSM) efforts, electricity demand was expected to continue growing at that rate for the foreseeable future. Moreover, the country was largely dependent on imported fossil fuels for power generation due to lack of endogenous resources. Morocco’s total energy bill had increased from US$ 3 billion in 2004 to US$ 4.2 billion in 2005 due to the rise in the prices of oil and coal. To reduce this dependence, the Government sought to diversify the country’s energy mix with a larger use of natural gas and renewable energies. Although Morocco had already commissioned its first gas-fired combined cycle power plant at Tahaddart in 2005 and had a few wind and hydro projects, it had no experience on utility-scale solar technology.

Solution

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) had identified solar thermal power technology as one of its priorities because of the technology’s significant cost reduction potential. The GEF and the Bank built a portfolio of four demonstration projects to facilitate the commercialization of solar thermal technology under GEF’s Operational Program “Reducing the long-term costs of low greenhouse-gas emitting technologies”. The objective was to contribute to the global learning of the technology in order to drive down its costs to commercially competitive levels through economies of scale and innovation. The Moroccan Government seized the opportunity offered by the GEF support program to cover the incremental cost of an expensive solar thermal technology to access the country’s unexploited solar resources.  The Bank fully supported GEF’s strategic objective to reduce, over the long term, the costs of low-carbon energy technologies.

Results

The project was the first of its kind in the world and contributed to the demonstration of a new non-carbon emitting technology in Morocco coupled to a combined-cycle gas-fired plant to fulfill the rapidly increasing electricity demand in the country at least cost.

In terms of environmental benefits, the Ain Beni Mathar plant achieved a reduction of 22,988 tons of CO2 in 2012, only 5.4% lower than the target value[1].

In terms of power generation, the ISCC's yearly generation of electricity was 3,370 GWh in 2012, representing 11 % of the country’s total electricity. The Ain Beni Mathar plant produced 39 GWh of solar-generated electricity, only 2.5% lower than the target value. The solar output as a percentage of total electricity produced by the ISCC power plant was 1.2 % in 2012, reaching its target value.

In terms of dissemination of lessons learned, ONEE reached all targets between October 2010 and December 2012, such as:

  •  20 ONEE staff were trained in ISCC technology
  • Over 440 citizens visited the Ain Beni Mathar plant
  • The project was presented in over 91 workshops and conferences
  • ONEE posted technical information about the project on its website for the public

In terms of social development, the project had very positive impacts on the neighboring communities and the local economy, mostly during construction. These impacts can be summarized as follows:

Creation of 740 direct jobs during construction (240 non-qualified workers of the nearby town of Ain Beni Mathar and nearly 500 qualified workers from other parts of Morocco) and 50 after commissioning (October 2010) for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) work. 

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank provided technical assistance and managed the overall project.  The total cost of the project was US$544 million including US$43.2 million in grant financing from the GEF, two loans from the African development Bank (AfDB) for a total of US$371.8 million and a loan of US$ 129 million from Spain’s Instituto de Credito Official (ICO).

Partners

The project was a partnership between the Bank (IBRD), Global Environment Facility (GEF), African Development Bank (AfDB) and ONEE (Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (Morocco’s National Electricity and Water Utility)), which required strong coordination. All co-financiers participated in the financing of one single contract for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of the 472 MW ISCC plant.  The US$ 43.2 million GEF grant mobilized by the Bank (2007) covered the incremental cost of the solar field. The AfDB was the main co-financier with one loan of Euro 136.45 million (2005) and another of Euro 151.14 million (2008), totaling Euro 287.8 million. In 2009, ONEE also obtained a loan of Euro 100 million from Spain’s State-owned financial agency, “Instituto de Crédito Official (ICO)”.

Moving Forward

Since project closing in December 2012, the World Bank Group continued to support Morocco’s efforts to promote solar energy as a central component of its electricity supply and its global contribution to a low carbon economy. At present, the Bank is providing support to the recently created Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) to develop a 500 MW solar complex near the city of Ouarzazate in southern-central Morocco (first phase of 160 MW to be commissioned in 2015). The Bank will also facilitate a South-South exchange between Mexico and Morocco in June 2014 to allow Mexican officials in charge of a similar GEF-financed project in Agua Prieta -under construction- to visit the Ain Beni Mathar plant and learn from the successful Moroccan experience.

Beneficiaries

The project had very positive social development impact on the neighboring communities and the local economy. The project (i) provided further electricity supply to the local community, (ii) stimulated local economy, (iii) improved the standard of living in the community, (iv) opened up several hamlets near the plant that did not have road access, and (v) created jobs. Moreover, the town of Ain Beni Mathar near the project site has benefited from tax revenues paid by ONEE to the municipality in concept of licenses.

[1] This value corresponds to the reductions of CO2 emissions (tons) in 2012, i.e. 0.59 (emissions coefficient) * 38,963 MWhe (solar field generation). This value is slightly lower than target because energy production from solar field was lower than the projected value due to a 12% lower Direct Normal Irradiation (DNI) than initially estimated.