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Morocco’s new solar power plants are expected to support 1.1 million people and hopes are high for a boost in job creation. Yet obstacles still remain.
If you only take away one thing from the most recent COP 22, the UN climate change conference held in Marrakech, Morocco in 2016, let it be this: You don’t have to be a superpower to make environmentally friendly choices. In fact, the 48 most vulnerable countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) were the ones who made a public pledge to shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 without any preconditions. This is a nice jab at the industrial superpowers, which tend to take umbrage at the mere suggestion that their energy policies could stand a review.
But beyond the effects the decision may have on the environment, this remarkable show of leadership from the most vulnerable countries ushers in interesting prospects for job creation in the renewable energy sector in countries like Morocco.
Morocco is betting on renewable energy
Surrounded by powerful energy exporters like Algeria, Libya and Egypt, Morocco relies on imported fossil fuels for over 90% of its energy needs and spends around 10-12 percent of its GDP on energy imports.
This would be enough to explain the country’s decision to end its energy dependency by 2030 by ensuring that half of its energy is renewable, with 14 percent from solar power. To achieve this lofty goal, the kingdom will rely on the “Noor I” solar thermal power plant – Noor is the Arabic word for light – which has been on line for half a year. The next two phases of the massive project are underway and are expected to be operational by the end of next year. The Noor solar power station will cover more than 5,000 acres with a generating capacity of 580 megawatts, enough to meet the electricity needs of 1.1 million Moroccans, according to World Bank estimates. This will make it the largest solar power plant in the world.
“This project has given us a choice position and international visibility. If everything goes as planned, Ouarzazate – the southern Moroccan city where the Noor project is located – will indeed be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) technology center in the world. We can certainly rejoice and celebrate this unique achievement in our region,” Karim Chraïbi, an expert in energy, regulatory frameworks, investments, and renewable energies, says.
Green job creation
With a population of more than 33.8 million young people, 45% of whom are under the age of 25, Morocco’s demography is very favorable and represents a huge workforce ready to take on the jobs created in and around the renewable energy sector.
Estimates by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) assess the potential of the entire North Africa region at around 16,000 jobs in renewable energy, a substantial job catalyst compared to the relatively low job creation potential of conventional energy sources. In this context, the Moroccan Ministry of the Environment has initiated integrated programs to promote the green sector, such as the national program for the protection of air quality, the "Improving the living environment of the population” program, The Biodiversity Protection and Exploitation Program, the National Wastewater Treatment Program (NAP) and the National Program of Household and Related Waste (PNDM).
Morocco’s ambitious energy policy has earned it 9th place in the global green economy
These multiple programs have fostered the emergence of new environmentally friendly jobs, such as water treatment and sanitation agent, environmental trainer, environmental lawyer, physico-chemical technician, landscaper, and urban management engineer.
With the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Ministry of the Environment has launched the first call for projects for entrepreneurs, start-ups and very small and medium-sized enterprises with innovative "cleantech" projects in waste recovery, rational water use, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green buildings. The winners of this program were named last November at the COP22 in Marrakech.
Morocco, which currently employs about 3,000 people in the renewable energy sector, is expected to create between 270,000 and 500,000 new green jobs by 2040. These figures were the findings of recent study by the Mediterranean Forum of Institute of Economics Sciences (FEMISE).
“Due to its ambitious energy policy, which has earned it 9th place in the global green economy, Morocco should be very pleased to have prepared the ground for the considerable development of green jobs in the short, medium and long term,” Director of the Moroccan Forum of Green Jobs (FMV) Mohamed Lamghrari said.
Lamghrari noted that the environmental sector represented a real source of employment, adding that by 2020, around 13,000 jobs will have been created in sustainable energy production, 50,000 in the forest sector, 35,000 in energy efficiency, 10,000 in the liquid waste management sector and about 11,000 in the management of solid waste.
…while in others there are only a handful
When asked how to improve green job market potential in Morocco, the Director of the FMV stressed the need to establish a culture of competitiveness, innovation and productivity. The renewable energy sector, he said, will offer opportunities for wind engineers and designers, bioenergy technicians, solar thermal and photovoltaic system installers, and technicians in climate engineering.
But despite the explosion of “green” training courses, several pitfalls persist. “Today, there are a large number of students specialising in certain fields, while there is only a handful in others. This imbalance leads to increased unemployment. The simplest solution would be to encourage students to take the current trends of the job market into consideration,” Mr. Lamghrari said.
Morocco’s solar energy transition…outsourced
One of the key challenges facing Morocco is where along the renewable energy value chain the country can create the most jobs. Most renewable energy technologies (like solar panels) are imported from countries that provide technologies at competitive prices, such as China. This means that jobs are unlikely to be created directly in manufacturing. Instead, a variety of indirect jobs, such as in import, project management, installation and construction, and operation and maintenance will be created.
“Given the complexity of concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, national private operators are in almost complete agreement, even if they do not dare say it out loud: Noor I had no real impact on them. Only a few civil engineering companies were able to benefit from direct contracts with the main contractor,” renewable energy expert Khalid Chraibi says. Put in this context, the 32% local integration rate for Noor I reported by the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) may not be an indicator of job creation.
The economic fabric of Morocco is made up of a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) working independently and with little integration. This means there are very few national companies equipped to take on industrial projects under a contract or EPC (engineering, procurement & construction). Under an EPC contract, a company assumes full responsibility for the entire implementation of a project (including construction risks) in all the relevant areas (retail engineering, purchase of equipment, civil engineering, electricity, plumbing, etc.). The hoops that must be jumped through before a solar project can be awarded are many and complicated, which is why national companies often lack the qualifications for this type of large-scale project. The majority of Moroccan businesses have neither the financial nor the human resources to invest in these complicated projects. When a foreign company submits an EPC, it almost always brings in its own network of subcontractors with whom it has long-term relationships. This means national companies are limited to assuming the role of a financial partner or a potential subcontractor.
The CMC is working to ensure that the job creation potential remains substantial
“In the absence of studies or surveys on the impact of the Noor project on job creation, local integration clauses do not, at least for the Noor I, II and III solar complexes, seem to have had the desired effect on orders and long-term job creation,” Khalid Chraibi says. Dorothea Richewski, representative of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Morocco, agrees. In an interview with the press, she said that the very high expectations that accompanied the development of the phase 1 of the Noor project had not been met: “There were fewer jobs created than expected and many were only temporary. Small and medium-size businesses were not sufficiently included in the construction of Noor I, though they are key for job creation and local economic development.”
With job creation falling short of its targeted expectations, the Moroccan Center of Conjuncture (CMC) called for the decentralization of energy competencies to replicate German success. The German model is more flexible, includes participatory initiatives, and strengthens the participation of communities and cities. The CMC is working to ensure that the job creation potential of the green economy in Morocco remains substantial.