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Answer to UK’s energy needs is blowing in the Moroccan wind

Morocco renewables Creative Commons
G7 members pledged to collectively increase offshore wind capacity by 150 gigawatts by 2030
  • UK’s Xlinks project to install solar panels and wind turbines in Morocco
  • Energy to be transported to UK via 3,800km cable in Atlantic Ocean
  • Morocco stands to create 10,000 jobs to help industrialisation strategy 

The UK is working with Morocco on an £18 billion ($20bn) plan to build vast solar panel and wind farms in the desert that could power more than seven million British homes by 2030.

It will also deliver electricity at about half the rate of that produced by nuclear power plants.

With the world in the grip of an energy crisis, the massive Xlinks project has been granted permission to install almost 12 million solar panels and 530 wind turbines across a 370 square mile area of desert in Morocco’s Guelmim-Oued Noun region and then transfer the power they generate to the UK via the world’s longest undersea electricity cable. 

The first phase of the project is slated to go live in 2029, with the second phase due in 2031. 

“We’ve got the land secured in Morocco, we’ve conducted environmental and archaeological studies, we’ve had an export licence granted and we’ve had brilliant engagement from the Moroccan government,” Xlinks chief executive Simon Morrish told AGBI.

“We started the measurement campaign in March this year and have 15 met masts up measuring meteorological data.

“On the cable route, we’ve had two desktop studies done and in August we started the subsea survey, so we’ve got ships doing the full surveys – both geotechnical and geophysical.

“We’ve also secured two grid connections into the national grid, each at 1.8 gigawatts (gw). The cable route onshore into the UK is about 90 percent commissioned and locked in and we’ve got the land for the converter station,” he said.

“All in all, the plans are at an advanced stage and we’re aiming for financial close in Q1 2024.”

Upon completion, Xlinks will generate 3.6gw of baseload electric power, stored at a 5gw battery plant in Morocco.

The power will be transported to the UK via a 3,800km HVDC cable running through the Atlantic Ocean.

The cable will come ashore in North Devon and be fed into Britain’s power network, where it will provide an estimated eight percent of the UK’s electricity needs with clean renewable energy. 

Morrish said construction of the 5gw battery will commence in 2027 and span a five-year period until completion of the project in 2031. 

“It will be equivalent to constructing 1gw a year, so everything is being ramped up enormously,” he said. 

The site of the Xlinks project experiences 3,500 hours of sunshine a year, compared to 1,500 annual hours in the UK.

morocco uk energyCreative Commons
Morocco is expected to produce an additional 14.4gw from solar and wind energy over the next five years

The project will be capable of supplying energy for 20 hours a day – including, crucially, when the wind is not blowing in the UK.

Morrish said the reason Xlinks is constructing such large battery storage is because it will enable the project to provide the peak four hours of energy to the UK on any given day, which is of enormous value to the grid.

Xlinks has asked the UK government for a deal in which public subsidies would be used to guarantee a fixed rate for the electricity of £48 per megawatt hour. 

In contrast, the strike price for the power supplied by the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant is £92.50. 

“The combined capacity of the two connectors that will reach Devon exceeds the capacity of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant,” said Professor Michaël Tanchum, a non-resident fellow with the Middle East Institute’s Program on Economics and Energy. 

“The two interconnectors can provide up to eight percent of Britain’s power demand. If the project succeeds, it will be a gamechanger for renewable energy exports.”

Tanchum added: “Xlinks is the indirect descendent of the ambitious but flawed Desertec project, a German initiative to use solar energy in the Sahara desert to power Europe. Its success will open up more opportunities for the countries of North Africa and beyond.” 

UK energy company Octopus Energy Group (OEG) has already invested “a seven-figure sum” in the Xlinks project, but said discussions were underway for further funding.

“This cheaper, greener energy being added into our energy system for 20 hours a day will drive down bills for everyone,” an OEG spokesperson told AGBI.

“The key to unlocking a low-cost energy future and a competitive economy is to build a system that is interconnected and flexible. We need more large-scale renewables projects like this to wean us off expensive fossil fuels for good.”

The Xlinks project will also provide an enormous boost to the UK government’s stated target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

“Xlinks is immensely important to helping the UK achieve its net zero goal,” Morrish said. “What else have they got that is going to be able to provide an equivalent of baseload?

“Offshore wind is fantastic in the UK and we absolutely should be advancing that. Nuclear is also a really good option but it just takes a really long time. Xlinks is going to cost half the price of nuclear and on a much faster timeline,” he said.

“We’ll be providing eight percent of the UK’s electricity requirement carbon-free, but most importantly, it’s a baseload equivalent which allows more offshore wind to go on the grid because we’re complementary to that.” 

Morocco is becoming a new energy supplier due to its competitive advantages in solar radiation, water and wind resources, mineral deposits and metals refining capacity

Morocco also stands to benefit from the project which will create 10,000 jobs in-country, according to Morrish, and help to deliver their industrialisation strategy. 

With 1.9gw of solar and wind capacity, Morocco is home to the third largest renewables capacity in the Arab world, according to the latest Global Energy Monitor report. 

Its current solar and wind capacity ranks it only behind Egypt, which tops the regional ranking with a 3.5gw installed capacity, and the UAE, which holds a capacity of 2.6gw. Jordan and Saudi Arabia rank fourth and fifth with a respective 1.7gw and 0.78gw. 

Morocco is expected to produce an additional 14.4gw from solar and wind energy over the next five years – six times the capacity of its prospective gas projects. 

This forecast in additional renewable power makes Morocco the Arab country with the second largest solar and wind capacity increases, the report noted. 

“The energy transition is causing some intriguing shifts in the roster of so-called ‘producer countries’,” Jim Krane, energy research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, said.

“We’re used to thinking of the big oil and gas producers, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, as our energy suppliers.

“This is changing quickly. The new producer countries are those with competitive advantages in solar radiation, water and wind resources, mineral deposits or metals refining capacity.

“Morocco may be oil-poor, but it has so many other advantages – sun, wind, minerals – that it is quickly becoming a new energy powerhouse.”

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