Africa's largest wind farm, at Tarfaya in southwestern Morocco, has started generating electricity and is expected to provide electricity to several hundred thousand people.
Tarfaya producing clean power and jobs
The 131 turbines have been erected on 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) along the wind-blown southern Atlantic coast and will be fully operational in October. The 260 feet turbines will produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity.
Work started in Tarfaya at the beginning of 2013, and 88 turbines have been erected so far. This is according to Mohammed Sebti of the Moroccan firm, Nareva Holding, which is working in partnership with France's GDF Suez on the project.
The first kilowatts were delivered at the beginning of April, generated by the 44 wind turbines which have been connected to the grid.
Costing around 500 million Euros (US$690 million), the wind farm will be the continent's biggest, surpassing Ethiopia's Ashegoda project, with its 84 turbines and 120-megawatt capacity.
Not only is the wind farm providing much-needed clean power, it is also benefitting the environment since it will save 900,000 tons of carbon emissions a year. The project has also created employment-around 50 employees, of the 700 people involved in the construction phase, will continue working at the site once it is fully operational.
Morocco’s wind power plans
While solar power remains at the top of Morocco’s list, it is not as environmentally friendly as wind power since solar power generation needs water for mirror washing. While water usage for this purpose is currently low, it will increase as the number of solar farms continues to grow.
The southwest is the focus of Morocco's wind plans, with the smaller Akhfennir plant, around 100 kilometres to the east of Tarfaya, already producing 100 MW from 60 turbines.
Last year, Morocco officially launched the construction of a 160-megawatt solar power plant near the desert city of Ouarzazate, which should be completed by 2015.
State power utility ONEE's chairman Ali Fassi Fihri Fihri says some Moroccan wind farms are already generating power more cheaply than coal-fired plants.
Foreign investment may be difficult
The Tarfaya region lies on the edge of Western Sahara, a disputed territory larger than the United Kingdom, most of which is under Moroccan control, but with the Algeria-based Polisario Front campaigning for independence since 1973.
A 50 MW wind farm already exists at Foum el Oued, near Western Sahara's main city of Laayoune, and other projects are planned, according to Morocco's Economic, Social and Environmental Council.
But, attracting foreign investment and participation in the country’s wind plans for the territory may prove to be difficult.
Morocco’s clean energy plan
Morocco is one of the world's most energy-poor countries, importing around 95% of its needs since it has no hydrocarbon reserves of its own, according to the World Bank.
Energy imports accounted for more than a quarter of the country's total imports two years ago, contributing to a 7.9% increase in the trade deficit to a record US$23.6 billion.
In response, the government has launched a plan to generate 4,000 MW from wind and solar power. The country’s aim is to cover 42% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020.
The renewable energy plans could be a big boost to the economy since it could eventually cut Morocco's annual imports of fossil fuels by the equivalent of 2.5 million tonnes of oil, according to ONEE.
Morocco aims to eventually export some of its renewable energy to Europe via undersea cables. The success of this project could pave the way for Algeria and Tunisia to follow suit.