Morocco’s energy transition tested by the flexibility of the electricity grid

With exceptional wind and solar resources and an advantageous geostrategic position between Europe and Africa, Morocco is in an ideal position to make renewable energy a powerful driver of its economy. However, the massive increase in the share of intermittent green energy in its energy mix is also creating a considerable need for flexible and controllable electricity to ensure the stability of its grid.

Opinion column by Tarik Sfendla, Africa Market Development Manager at Wärtsilä Energy

Since 2009, Morocco has put climate change at the top of its agenda. Lacking the oil and gas resources of its neighbors and dependent on energy imports, the country is pursuing a bold energy transition to take advantage of its vast wind and solar resources, with the goal of integrating 52% renewable generation capacity into its energy mix by 2030. When it comes to taking advantage of the global energy transition, Morocco has no shortage of assets.

First of all, given its unique geostrategic position, Morocco is a key partner for Europe. It is also the only African country interconnected to the European electricity grid. This is a major advantage, which can eventually make Morocco the largest exporter of renewable energy in a Europe engaged in a frantic race towards carbon neutrality.

Thanks to these interconnections, Morocco will be able to take advantage of its excess renewable energy production by exporting it to Europe, but also import additional electricity when needed. Finally, the interconnection provides a partial but important answer to its grid balancing needs.

Europe’s green hydrogen development plan offers Morocco an additional opportunity to monetize its vast renewable potential. The EU recently set a goal of increasing clean hydrogen production sixfold by 2030 to replace fossil fuels in the most polluting industries. This is a potentially huge market for the country.

Due to the extremely favorable conditions for renewable energy production in Morocco, and considering that electricity generation is the largest component of the total cost of the hydrogen production process (more than 50%), Wärtsilä noted in its analysis that the more green hydrogen Morocco produces, the more it will reduce the total cost of the electrical system. In effect, it will generate profits from hydrogen that exceed the increase in the total cost of the electrical system due to the investments needed for hydrogen production and flexibility.

Flexibility as a prerequisite for a successful energy transition

As we can see, the development of renewable energies represents a considerable economic challenge for the country. As the recent governmental report « New Development Model » underlines, it would allow to widen the accessibility of the Moroccan exportable offer to the buoyant markets and to attract on the national territory foreign investors in search of opportunities in the green economy sectors.

But if it is to make a success of its energy transition, Morocco must also ensure the stability of its grid by integrating a significant share of flexible gas-fired generation. Ensuring the balance and stability of the electricity system is a critical issue, and one that is becoming increasingly important as the country integrates more and more intermittent renewable energy.

Controllable generation capacity can cope with sudden variations in renewable electricity supply and demand that would otherwise cause serious problems on the grid, such as blackouts, severe instabilities or financial losses. The main sources of flexibility come from gas engine power plants, which can be switched on and off almost instantaneously, and from energy storage units.

Introducing a high degree of flexibility in Morocco’s electricity production is not an option if the country wants to make the most of renewable energy. It is a major challenge, which requires the implementation of an integrated and intelligent energy strategy. Even more today than before, the production price of a kWh in fine is only optimized by cleverly combining different technologies for the best performance, the least risk of interruption, whatever the evolution of consumption.

By making the right technological choices today in favor of flexibility, Morocco will be able to offer its population truly abundant, reliable, low-carbon and cheap electricity.