The sights and smells of Morocco are on full display in the country’s most charismatic city, Marrakech.
Wafts of mint and spices wind through the narrow alleyways lined with trinkets and crafts. They are just some of the familiar delights we associate with Morocco, but we were in the country to see so much more. Morocco has an ambitious goal. It wants to be a global solar superpower.
And, why not? The sun beats down on the sweeping Sahara for almost 3000 hours every year. An arid landscape that covers 30% of Africa with an unobstructed, free, natural resource in abundance is there to be harnessed.
To help us understand the solar situation better, we drove south-east from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, travelling along the Atlas Mountain’s vertiginous roads. They took us through ancient cities and remote villages, all bathed in beautiful sunlight.
Ouarzazate itself is a small town, but with big business on its doorstep. It is home to some of the world’s largest movie studios and the location for many a Hollywood blockbuster. Lawrence of Arabia, Game of Thrones and Babel are just some of the titles that have been filmed there. On the outskirts of this town is Noor, a colossal solar power station. Noor means light in Arabic.
I was not prepared for the scale of this project. To see it is to believe it. It felt like I’d stepped into Tomorrow’s World. Row upon row of huge solar panels spread across the desert, all capturing the sun’s rays. The solar technology at Noor covers 3000 hectares.
It is the largest solar power complex of it’s kind in the world. The whole plant can provide enough energy for 2 million people around the globe. The sheer size of it is staggering, and its potential to help with our energy needs is exciting. Tariq Bourquoquo, who has worked for Noor Power Plant since its conception, told me that Morocco began to invest in solar energy, and other sustainable solutions, in the late 2000s, when fossil fuel costs were rising.
The country relies heavily on imported coal, oil and gas because it has limited reserves itself. Harnessing the sun’s energy could therefore be a very real solution for Morocco. It is a pioneer in this field, with ambitions to help fuel the world, not just its own country. It currently helps supply energy to Spain, Algeria and soon Portugal. We travelled a great deal around the area, but many cast doubt over just how successful the project has been. Noor has the capacity to provide energy for 2 million homes. 35 million live in Morocco, yet very few are seeing the benefits of this $3billion project.
So many of those we spoke to can barely afford electricity, and have had to resort to installing their own solar panels to become self-sufficient. This was the situation for Aziz, who we met.
Aziz runs a small, solar-powered hotel on the fringes of the Sahara desert. He asked for government assistance to help power his property through the grid that Noor supplies, but this was not an option, so Aziz chose to invest in solar panels himself to be able to provide his guests with an energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly experience.
He’s disappointed in the solar project. He truly believes that Morocco is brilliantly positioned to produce clean, green energy and still has hope that Noor can achieve its goals.
These thoughts were echoed across the country, whether we spoke to people in cafes on mountain passes or those living in the desert. In the five years since it was built, few had seen any tangible evidence of solar success for themselves. Projects of this magnitude and scope are, of course, vastly complex and take time. Any ground-breaking work is not without over-spending and huge inefficiencies, but brave steps must be taken to help devise real strategy and solution to the world’s energy needs, and Morocco is taking them.
You can watch On Assignment on Tuesday October 26 at 10.45pm on ITV and afterwards on the ITV Hub.