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Tech dispute stalls Morocco’s Noor Midelt I solar project

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Morocco’s ambitious solar energy goals are facing setbacks as a dispute erupted over the technology choices to be used in constructing the planned $2 billion, 800 MW Noor Midelt I plant.

Three highly informed sources close to the project told Reuters that the project, which is intended to be Morocco’s largest, has experienced delays because the Energy Ministry and grid operator ONEE rejected the proposed concentrated solar power (CSP) technology.

For context in 2019, the state energy agency MASEN granted the contract to develop Noor Midelt I to a consortium led by EDF Renouvelables.

The project specifications initially included both photovoltaic (PV) technology, which is noted for its low cost but limited power storage capabilities, and concentrated solar power (CSP), which is more expensive but known for its ability to store power for extended periods.

However, following the contract award, ONEE and the Energy Ministry stipulated that they would only agree to buy the power if MASEN either abandoned CSP in favor of PV technology or switched from thermal salt energy storage to batteries, stating the same source.

The dispute between ONEE and MASEN regarding the use of concentrated solar power at the Noor Midelt I project stems from problems encountered at the Noor Ouarzazate solar complex.

“Noor Ouarzazate helped put Morocco on the global map of large-scale renewable energy projects. But a closer look in terms of operation costs and maintenance issues show that the plant is rather a liability,” said a source close to Noor Midelt I project, in a statement to Reuters.

Despite these concerns, MASEN, which commissioned Noor Ouarzazate defends its use, stating that “the plant had shown good performance in 2023 both on peak and off-peak hours,” and highlighting CSP’s storage capabilities to address grid needs during peak hours.

Noor Midelt I is valued at around MAD 7.57 billion ($782 million). The initiative is supported by various financial institutions, including KfW, the European Investment Bank, the French Development Agency, the European Commission, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Clean Technology Fund.

By 2030, Morocco aims to increase renewable energy capacity to 52% up from the current 37.6%, mainly through solar and wind investments.

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