Interview with Tarik Hamane, Former Director General MASEN, Kingdom of Morocco

Interview with Tarik Hamane, Former Director General MASEN, Kingdom of Morocco


What kind of potential does Morocco have to become a leader and key exporter of renewable energies in Africa? What major projects are currently underway to up the percentage of renewables in Morocco’s energy mix?

Morocco has been a forerunner in decarbonization and energy transition since 2009, His Majesty set out guidelines for an energy strategy that gave pride of place to renewable energies. In 2009 we drew up a strategy which aimed to achieve 42% of renewable energy in our electricity mix by 2020 which was then increased to 52% by 2030, with clear, quantified targets, along with a minimum capacity of renewable, wind, solar and hydro projects to be commissioned. We currently have around 4,600 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects up and running in Morocco including a large wind component of 2,010 MW, we have 1,770 MW of hydropower and 827 MW of solar projects already operational.

We are well advanced on our 2030 target and we are even planning to exceed it, since we currently have over 4,500 megawatts of projects under construction or in relatively advanced stages of development, to be commissioned by 2028. Taking these into consideration, we should reach our 52% target by 2027. This is thanks, firstly, to His Majesty’s enlightened vision and the willingness of the public authorities to take this issue of energy transition to the highest level of government. Secondly, our potential, particularly in wind and solar energy, is one of the best in the world. We have the best wind farms in the north of Morocco, but also in the south. We also have one of the best solar sites.

The advantage of Morocco is that we can have both excellent wind and solar resources in the same areas. This means that we can have a very high capacity factor, which limits the intermittency constraints generated by renewable energies on the power grid. In addition, we are interconnected with Europe, through Spain for some time now, with two undersea power lines of over 1,400 MW. We are also in the process of developing an interconnection with Mauritania, precisely to make Morocco a perfect energy and electricity hub, particularly between Europe and Africa and to complete this loop of Africa and the West from Morocco.

One of our flagship projects is the Ouarzazate 580-MW complex, which has been commissioned in four phases and produces solar-generated electricity using a range of technologies, including storage technologies that enable renewable electricity to be produced even in the evening during peak-hours, so that the plant alone can meet the needs of around 2 million people.

Other equally important projects are being developed, notably wind power. We have the largest wind farms in Africa in operation today, with the Boujdour wind farm at over 300 MW, the Tarfaya wind farm at 300 MW and others that are either operational or under development.


Can you give our readers an overview of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN)? What sort of capabilities does it currently possess, what are its objectives?

A range of legal and institutional tools have been put in place to implement our Kingdom’s 2009 strategy, including MASEN, which is the most important of these tools. MASEN’s objective is to help achieve our national targets in terms of renewable energy. It was empowered with a rather unusual structure, since it’s a limited company, but with public capital. We have the role of an agency but the agility of a private company to carry out this mission. MASEN’s objectives are in line with national targets, enabling us to reach the 52% target and also achieve a minimum capacity of around 6,000 MW by 2030. That’s exactly what we’re doing today, with all the projects we’re carrying out in both wind and solar power. It was created as the ‘Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy’ in 2010, but then transformed into the ‘Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy’ in 2016, when the decision was taken to grant Masen the entire range of renewable energies under its umbrella, precisely to accelerate these developments.

We currently have around 4,600MW of renewable energy projects up and running in Morocco. Some of these have been built by MASEN, notably the Noor Ouarzazate complex. Ouarzazate also has a very special storage capacity. On Noor Ouarzazate 1, we have three hours of storage for solar energy and on Noor Ouarzazate 2 and 3, seven hours each. This makes it the world’s largest storage facility. Later, we also developed photovoltaics, not only in the last phase of Nour Ouarzazate, but also in Boujdour and Laayoun. Today we’re developing a new complex in Midelt, whose total installed capacity will exceed 1.6 GW, i.e. 1,600MW of photovoltaic power, but also with a battery storage capacity of at least 920 megawatt hours. This would also make it the largest battery storage facility on the continent.

Everytime we develop a project, we ask ourselves what the best technology is to meet our needs. Initially, the technology that was best suited to this was concentrated solar power as it provided competitive thermal storage to meet our electricity needs during peak hours, after sunset. Today, it’s more photovoltaic with batteries that are becoming cost-competitive, as the price of batteries has come down significantly in recent years, making them an extremely attractive source of storage. We are developing this project in three phases. We are at the last mile to close the financing by this summer and start construction of Noor Midelt 1, which is about 800MW of PV and about 800MW of battery storage.

As for Noor Midelt 2, we’re well advanced in the tendering phase, since we’ve already carried out the pre-qualification. We have now launched the final stage of the bidding process. More than six international consortia are in the running. In July, we’ll open the commercial bids and find out which one will be chosen. We’re aiming for construction to start in December 2024 or January 2025. Noor Midelt 2 is 400 MW of photovoltaics and 460 MWh of battery storage.

Noor Midelt 3 has the same configuration and is also in the tendering phase, since we’ve already done the pre-qualification. We’re now getting ready to launch the final phase of the process in May, with a view to completing and starting operation in 2025. All these projects have been completed before 2027 and will enable us to reach the 52% target.

We also have other projects, such as the Noor-Atlas photovoltaic program which is well advanced. We’ve already received bids. Construction starts this year and it’s in the order of 290 MW. We’re also developing other solar projects, for a total of over 2.7 gigawatts of solar power to be developed.

We also have several wind power projects: we have one that is currently being commissioned, that has been built and completed. Production has already started at the Koudia El Beida repowering facility. It’s a special project because it’s the first repowering in Africa, the first wind farm to be commissioned in Africa. Repowering means replacing old machines with new ones. In this case it’s a full repowering, we replaced all the machines. This site, which is in the Tetouan-Tangier region of northern Morocco next to the Strait of Gibraltar, was the first wind project to be developed in Africa – it was commissioned in 2000. We had small machines back then, with a unit capacity of around 600 kilowatts, which we are now replacing with much larger machines, each rated at 5MW. We can double capacity on this site and produce at a much more attractive cost, taking advantage of both the resource and the technological developments that have taken place.


The state recently allocated 1 million hectares of land for green hydrogen projects. How would you assess Morocco’s potential as a supplier of hydrogen to Europe and the region?

The goal is to decarbonize our economies. To achieve this, we have started with the electricity sector, which accounts for almost 25% of global energy consumption. If we want to go beyond that, we need to target the other sectors: industry, the tertiary sector, transport and so on. Electrifying these uses or industries directly is not always easy. Hydrogen therefore appears, or at least has been identified, as an interesting alternative for addressing these sectors, which are difficult to decarbonize through electricity. It’s a way of transforming renewable electricity into a commodity that can be more easily transported, stored and used in a number of industries.

We are close to the European market which is a very demanding market. We are only 13 kilometers away from Europe. We’re already interconnected by a gas pipeline, by power lines and by shipping lines to several Moroccan ports. We also face the Atlantic. America isn’t far away either. This geographical position enables us to address several markets. Morocco also has other advantages, such as free-trade agreements with the United States, Europe and several other countries. Almost 2.5 billion people can be reached through these free-trade agreements. This situation has enabled us to develop a number of industries. In the automotive industry today, Morocco is by far the leading player on a continental scale. We’re close to producing a million cars a year. Cars are currently Morocco’s leading export. So, the idea with green hydrogen is to try and duplicate the same dynamic and make this new economy a vector of development for Morocco, both through the production of green hydrogen and its derivatives, thanks to our exceptional resources and other advantages.

Today, most studies and international institutes rank Morocco as one of the top 3 or top 5 potential producers of green hydrogen, with even greater advantages due to its proximity to the European market. Some believe that Morocco could produce up to 4% of international demand by 2050. But for Morocco, it’s not just a question of turning the economy into an extraction industry. We want to maximize added value by attracting industries that are part of the value chain, producing components, electrolysers, wind turbines, solar panels and so on. We also want industries that use this hydrogen or its derivatives, notably green steel and other fertilizer uses. We have the advantage of being one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of fertilizers, which consume ammonia, so substitution by green ammonia is also an important advantage. So we also have a domestic market for this green hydrogen, which is already there and growing. This combination makes Morocco the place to be for the development of this green hydrogen.


What efforts has MASEN taken to set itself up as a key player in the hydrogen sector?

We’re in a sector where technological evolution is quite interesting. You have to keep up with developments, stay abreast and anticipate new technologies so as not to make the wrong choices. Every time we make an investment decision, we make sure it’s as relevant as possible, by looking at all the options. We’re technologically agnostic. Every time, we look for the best solution. We already have an in-house institute and R&D platform where we support R&D in the field of renewable energies. Our focus is not on fundamental research, but on applications.

In Ouarzatate, we have a complex that enables us to test the latest technologies, both for electricity production and storage, in a real environment, with the possibility of interacting with the network, with the power plant’s electrical system. We have several agreements with several European and national institutes, as well as Asian ones and several world organizations, precisely for this kind of application. The most recent of these is with the World Bank, precisely for tests on storage sorting. In technological terms, we have deployed several means of storing energy in Morocco. The first was hydraulic storage, known as steps, or pumped-storage transfer stations. The idea is to have two reservoirs, one at a lower elevation and one at a higher elevation. Water is circulated in a closed circuit between the two reservoirs. Thanks to potential energy on one side or pumping on the other, we can store the water. And so in a turbine, we produce electricity, pump and store. Our first pumped hydro storage 460-MW unit has been in service since 2005 (Afourer). Another is currently being tested and should be operational this year. We plan to build at least three or four by 2030.

At Ouarzazate, we have molten salt, which means steam is stored in the salts. There, we have deployed a total of  510 MW of flexible capacity across the three CSP facilities and we are in the process of developing large-scale batteries, which are now extremely competitive and easy to operate, since they are racks that can be deployed much more quickly and in a much more modular way. That’s how we continue to see the best ways of storing energy.

To manage intermittency, we need a well-developed grid that can absorb and compensate for these renewable energies, as well as developed storage resources to maximize the penetration of renewable energies and interconnections with our European neighbors to trade and optimize grid management. We also need a more holistic vision with a nexus between water, agriculture and electricity. Today, we rely essentially on the use of electricity to produce water through desalination. We have a construction project about to start up in Casablanca, one of the biggest in the world which forms part of our commitment that all desalination plants operate from green energy. Water storage also becomes an indirect means of storing electricity.

The Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline is another element that is a game changer for Morocco. Having a gas pipeline to transport hydrogen between Morocco and Europe means that this energy can be transported in an extremely efficient, inexpensive and therefore optimal way.


Digital technologies have changed the game for renewables, particularly in terms of efficiencies and costs. How has Morocco’s energy and renewables industry absorbed the latest technologies?

One of the great difficulties in managing electricity networks is optimizing supply and demand. Ideally, we produce and match demand. We need to act on electricity demand through smart grids and smart meters, which enable us to optimize energy use on the consumer side and on the production side through prediction tools, especially for renewable energy. We also call on artificial intelligence, which enables us to make advanced calculations to get as close as possible to production predictions and anticipate the use of alternative energies in order to optimize the network. Today, the use of new technologies and artificial intelligence is becoming imperative for network management and for optimizing and maximizing the integration of renewables.


What is your message to our readers?

Morocco is an energy crossroads. I believe that Morocco meets all the conditions required to host the most interesting developments in this field. We have the resources, the commitment, at the highest level of government, but also the human capital. So, we’ve demonstrated this through our achievements and today we want to go even further with these mega-giga projects, attracting industrialists around us, both to address the market here, but also for export. And I think we have everything it takes to be a real world-class player in this field.