Morocco: over 4 million people live on less than £2 a day but ‘enjoy’ up to 350 days of sunshine per year. The connection between these two statistics would appear tenuous at best, if not for the North-African nation’s recent construction of the world’s largest concentrated solar plant.
Aside from the obvious victory for renewable energy, the ripple effect of this multi-billion pound investment has the potential to reach far and wide across the country’s population, with vital benefits for local businesses, for one. Jaouad Zag, 28, is from the Southern desert city of Tan Tan. He used to share a small house with his mother and two older brothers and earned a living fishing and selling his produce to local restaurants. ‘Many Moroccans depend on reliable energy to run their small businesses’, he says, ‘If the grid goes down port workers can’t store fish safely so we could lose our income’. He adds: ‘It’s the same for the restaurants: they can’t keep spoilt produce or rely on fridges with flickering lights’.
This solar energy project is a statement to the world from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. Morocco is not just keeping up, it is now an environmental leader on the world stage. A clear demonstration that as a nation, Morocco is ready to tackle world issues in 2016 with contemporary ideas and forward-thinking policies.
In terms of paid labour, its construction looks to provide jobs for 1600 Moroccans: a ‘significant’ return for the people inside the country, especially when you consider the surrounding area’s 23% poverty rate. The permanent jobs maintained by the operation of the plant are also set to support 200 more families with a regular income: with an average rural household size of 5.6, that means financial stability for potentially 1000 more people. Forever. World Bank Country Director for the Maghreb, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, also said: ‘The returns on this investment will be significant for the country and its people, by enhancing energy security, creating a cleaner environment, and encouraging new industries and job creation.’
Not only will the Sahara solar plant provide affordable power to up to 1.1 million homes, but will also carry with it a potential wealth of other social benefits. ‘We are convinced that climate change is an opportunity for our country,’ said Environment Minister Hakima el Haite. The Moroccan agency of solar energy – MASEN – believes the project and exportation of energy is likely to bring into balance Morocco’s relationship with neighbouring territories; such as Algeria, with whom their long-term political and territorial conflicts led to the closing of the mutual border in 1994 (A costly move for Morocco at $2 billion per year). Certainly, expansion of the solar project would mean a positive step towards improving stability in the region.
Aside from this, the fact is that Morocco is a ‘young’ nation, with approximately one third of its population under the age of fourteen. By the time the newest generation grows into adulthood, the country should have reached its goal of sourcing 42% of its energy from renewables. The ‘solar generation’ of Moroccan children will be the real winners, with access to reliable power in their homes and places of work. They will experience first-hand the benefits of having working electrical equipment in their schools and hospitals; power shortages in computers and medical equipment will be a thing of the past and should lead to more modernised practices in education and medicine. As well as functioning street lights and improved food hygiene standards (resulting from working refrigerators and lower electricity costs for businesses storing perishable food), Moroccan families will be able to take for granted access to hot water, and leave behind their childhood memories of trying to gather the money for a bottle of gas.
‘The new solar plant is a great step for our country, Morocco has all this sunshine, it would be crazy not to take advantage of it,’ says Jaouad hopefully, ‘I want my children to go to a school with good facilities and modern electrical equipment, I want every child in my country to have the best chances’.
The most interesting thing is that Morocco has the unique ability, above all other African nations, to make huge advances without losing the traditional integrity of their culture. ‘This is not just about keeping on the lights on,’ says Jaouad, ‘Moroccans have a strong sense of identity and pride in our country. For us, the project is about setting an example to the world. If we can do it, what’s stopping other nations moving away from fossil fuels?’
On one hand, the country’s building of the solar plant has certainly set Morocco as a front runner in green energy and will undoubtedly lead to some degree of social and economic progress for its people. On the other hand, whilst inspiring, such a large-scale government project begs the question of what ‘normal’ people can do to bring about similar changes in environmental policy at home. ‘Well, here in Morocco we are lucky to have a king who cares about the future of his people,’ says Jaouad, ‘but in other countries, people have to use the power of democracy. I would say the best thing we can do for our kids and our future is to support green ministers, it is our responsibility to take real interest in potential governments and vote for those who have strong renewable energy policies.’ Smiling warmly, he says ‘Can you imagine, one day, having solar power across the whole of Africa? It would change the lives of the people forever.’