The MEPC is highlighting climate solutions across the Middle East and North Africa.
Mr. Saïd Mouline is Director General of the Moroccan Agency for Energy Efficiency (AMEE), one of several government agencies addressing the energy transition. Previously, he implemented the Qualit’air program at the Mohammed VI Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
Over the past ten years, Morocco transformed itself into a leader in renewable electricity and is ranked as the top MENA country on MIT’s Green Future Index. Gavin Moulton and Shannon Beacom discuss with Mr. Mouline the latest developments in Morocco’s renewable energy landscape and his expansive vision for the emerging green economy.
SB: When did Morocco’s recent electricity transformation begin and what is the role of the Moroccan Agency for Energy Efficiency (AMEE)?
The major shift in our energy policy occurred in 2009 when King Mohammed VI announced that we should prioritize renewables and efficiency, with dedicated agencies in support. At that time, the Renewable Energy Center (ADEREE), which had been established in 1982, became a new agency dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency. The agency changed again in 2016, to focus exclusively on improving energy efficiency and is known as AMEE. Our current pivot is towards increased involvement in the green economy.
In addition to AMEE, there is an agency dedicated to large-scale solar and wind projects, the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN). We also have other agencies for research and development, such as the Research Institute for Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN). Today, we not only create projects linked to renewables but have a broader strategy with objectives to reach. For example, in 2009, we set the goal of reaching 42 percent renewable energy capacity in 2020. Now the target is 52 percent capacity by 2030.
GM: After hosting the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, what goals did Morocco set for renewable energy?
At COP22, I was in charge of the Public-Private Partnership Commission to promote the development of projects between the government and the private sector. Thus, our approach in Morocco is not just linked to a single installation contract for a private company but rather aims to achieve sustainable private management for 20-25 years. Today, all energy projects—wind, solar, and even those linked to fossil fuels—are developed by the private sector. Attracting green financing for those projects is also critical, and we have been successful in attaining clean technology investment from the World Bank.
An example of AMEE’s role in the energy transition across the economy is our collaboration with the agriculture sector. We're helping farmers switch from diesel pumps to solar pumps with subsidies, loans, and training. AMEE established a training center in Marrakech to train young people to install and maintain solar pumps in rural areas. They can then create their own companies for installation and maintenance. Finally, we approached local banks to help finance this transition with dedicated loans for solar pumping. Previously, it took a farmer ten years to pay off the solar pump, now it's only four to five years. These incentives enabled the installation of 40,000 solar pumps in just a few years. Now we are looking to apply similar public-private approaches more broadly.
GM: Could you tell us more about how creating a circular economy supports climate policy in Morocco? How does a comprehensive approach to economic equality contribute to Morocco's climate policy?
Capacity building is key. Our center in Marrakech is not only for Moroccans but serves the whole continent. Did you know that in Africa, 600 million citizens are without electricity? Almost half of the population of Africa does not have access to electricity, it's a shame, especially knowing that we can produce green electricity cheaply. This is why we are educating young people about opportunities and jobs in the green economy. It is important to create jobs for young people and introduce them to this rapidly developing field with huge opportunities.
The financial point is also really important. Local banks can lend loans for small projects as development banks fund projects such as large solar or wind plants that produce hundreds of megawatts of power. But in different regions with various small projects, capacity building is key. With universities, we have a program for new engineering and technical branches. And there are technical centers dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency. With these resources, we can reach young people, who are the men and women that will work to create a greener future.
SB: How does government leadership affect implementation strategies in Morocco?
When we started our environmental policy, a lot of people were saying, “Look, we're not a big emitter. Why should we pursue expensive environmental policies?” However, at the highest level, we have had a strong commitment to prioritize renewable energy, which came from the King’s vision.
Also, consider what is happening in the United States, with the new administration, there has been a great change. Previously, during COP22 in Marrakech in 2016, we were dealing with a change in the US’s policy on climate change. Now, the US is strongly advocating for climate issues. We're very glad that the United States is now becoming an important partner in the Paris Agreement.
GM: Will the European Union’s upcoming carbon border taxes on imports affect Moroccan industries?
In March 2020, AMEE was placed under the authority of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Green and Digital Economy. In addition to energy efficiency, AMEE’s mission was expanded to sustainable transport and decreasing industrial pollution. Cleaner industry should be pursued, and we are working on how to decarbonize.
Europe is implementing carbon border taxes, and 65 percent of our exports are to Europe, so we have to be very careful. That's why we now have a program, also with the Foundation, for how to decarbonize industry: carbon monitoring, implementing energy efficiency, sourcing renewable energy and carbon compensation. I would highlight the industry we have developed. In the wind sector for example, Moroccan factories produce blades, towers, and cables. Not only are 70 percent of the spare parts of the windmills produced in-country, but we are even exporting to Europe. Programs like the circular economy, waste management, and recycling can also work to reduce the overall carbon footprint for the system.
We believe we can develop a more attractive industry. What we are saying to the private sector is that they can decarbonize while decreasing their energy bill. It's not like ten years before when environmental actions came at a high economic cost. That is simply not the case anymore. We can decrease the energy bill by 30 percent with the right policy for efficiency and renewable energy.
SB: Around 35 percent of Morocco’s energy capacity is composed of renewables. How will the gap be closed to meet 100 percent electricity from renewable sources by 2050?
The country recently created a hydrogen cluster with the government, private sector, and universities with this goal in mind. We believe that it is possible to reach the very ambitious objective of 100 percent because it has become economically possible. Before, it was limited by the intermittency of renewables, but that is not the case anymore. We can reach 100 percent of renewables while eliminating also all use of fossil fuel for transport. As I mentioned, AMEE now has also the mission of sustainable transport. For the energy transition in transportation, the development of new technologies and hydrogen are essential. The hydrogen sector offers many opportunities to accelerate the energy transition and drastically reduce emissions. If we can produce green molecules—hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, and others—for electricity needs while finding a way to decarbonize them, hydrogen technology can be applied to the transportation and industrial sectors.
In Morocco, there are many opportunities because the country has already achieved high renewable energy production. If you look at the map of Morocco for wind and solar projects, there is tremendous potential. Before, we were 95 percent dependent on fossil fuel imports, but not anymore due to renewable projects. This is a fundamental economic change and opportunity.
With strong political support, we have led the successful development of global projects for ten years. There is growth in R&D, infrastructure, and capacity building. In the future, we will not only be 100 percent energy sufficient, but we will also export green hydrogen and electricity to Europe. We are following one project between Australia and Singapore where they expect to have a solar power plant exporting green electricity to Singapore with over 4800 km of cables. Morocco is significantly closer to Europe than Australia is to Singapore, and we have projects in discussion today for exporting green electricity to European countries. When you look at the price of renewables, one of the cheapest ways for Europe to reduce their own emissions is to import green electricity and hydrogen from countries like Morocco. We are ready, politically, legally, technically and economically.
SB: The production of green hydrogen requires plentiful sunlight and water. With the current water stress in Morocco, how will this be addressed to export green hydrogen?
When talking about climate change, the first issue is linked to water, especially in our region. Africa is not responsible for climate change but has suffered greatly from it. The primary problem is drought. Morocco benefits from the political policy of the 1970s with the former King advanced water security. Dams were built for storage and a national water policy was implemented. This program is why we don't have to today to shut off the water in any city. But it's very important to make the production of hydrogen environmentally friendly. We are following developments in this field and considering how desalination can be a solution. Morocco has more than 3500 km of coasts, and desalination of water is beginning to intersect with renewables. At present, there are some desalination plants in small and large cities. These desalination plants help alleviate water issues, and with green electricity there is further potential.
There is also a program in Morocco to produce green ammonia. Morocco is the leading producer of phosphate fertilizer, and the sector has implemented a strong productive policy to be carbon neutral in 2040. Already, 80 percent of the industry’s energy is from renewables, and there is a policy for water and waste management. Additionally, the company created a project to transport phosphate efficiently through pipelines instead of by train, which has eliminated one million tons of CO2 each year. This approach with the fertilization industry shows that we can reach ambitious environmental goals.
SB: In Green Generation 2030, Morocco’s new vision to address climate change, there is a special effort to target agriculture. How are these two environmental issues connected?
During COP22, Morocco launched the initiative Adaptation in Africa for Agriculture (AAA), it's really important to look at the nexus between energy and water for agriculture. Today we have enormous opportunities through AAA, with the involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture and OCP Group (state-owned phosphate company). It is nonsense that a continent like Africa cannot afford to feed all its people. Africa is a huge continent, and we have plenty of land and water. Places like India or China have almost the same population, but 5-10 times less space, can produce food for their population, yet we cannot afford to feed our people. This is really a Green Revolution for agriculture, developed with the OCP group in different countries.
Talking about fertilization, many people were saying we should be careful because of the pollution linked to fertilization. However, the approach is to promote clean fertilization, how to use appropriate amounts on the right land. Environmental issues and cost were both considered in the development of this methodology. The AAA initiative is the first one needed in our continent as it links to energy and water.
GM: Climate change has severely impacted Africa. What steps has Morocco taken in terms of regional partnerships to export and develop green technology across the continent?
At COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco organized an African event headed by the King with all the African heads of state present. He wanted to show how various sectors in climate change, agriculture, energy, and water can be further developed in Africa by African actors. Cooperation occurs through all our agencies, MASEN, IRESEN, and AMEE, and with memorandums of understanding with partner agencies across the continent.
One thing Morocco has shown is that when you have a strategy and political support, you can reach the lowest renewable prices in the world, less than three cents per kilowatt-hour in the wind sector. Morocco has shown the whole continent how to economically implement renewable energy policies, and we support our partners throughout the continent today in this pursuit. We can share with many countries our different projects on both small and large scales.
GM: How has American economic cooperation affected the renewable energy industry and what opportunities exist for international investment?
Many international companies have invested, and we are glad that more US companies are involved today because of this public-private approach. We have a free trade agreement between the US and Morocco. We have also incentives, for example, there are 30 percent subsidies to help investment in decarbonization for SMEs.
There are also opportunities beyond the development of renewables for US companies. The sustainable transport, energy efficiency, circular economy and green agriculture should also be considered in addition to renewables. For US companies, I want to highlight that they're very welcome and that there are plentiful opportunities with available support from the government.
SB: What are the biggest threats to climate policy in Morocco?
At the beginning of the pandemic, when crude prices decreased to less than $20 per barrel, some people advocated increased petroleum use. But we should be very careful about these kinds of decisions. It is important to be coherent and continue our energy policies. Not only do our initiatives concern the price of fossil fuel, they address climate change and are creating clean and sustainable jobs in the field. We are quite optimistic that the decreasing price of renewables and rapid advances in technology in green hydrogen and energy storage will help Morocco achieve its energy goals.