Big Solar drives a wedge between the need to abate climate change and end poverty, says The World Development Movement.
Claiming the the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund is supposed to be used to alleviate poverty, a British group is objecting to the use of World Bank funds in Morocco to deploy a Desertec solar project in Morocco that will export power to Europe.
The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) is expected to award the contract for the first phase of the 500 MW Ouarzazate solar project within weeks to one of three energy developers from outside Morocco.
MASEN intends to develop four 500 MW solar projects by 2020, which would allow it to source nearly half of its electricity from renewables, as well as become a net exporter of energy to Europe thanks to its interconnector stretching to Spain. In anticipation of becoming a renewables powerhouse, Morocco doubled the capacity of the interconnector to 400MW in 2007.
After accepting bids from 200 companies, Spain’s Abesinsa ICI Abengoa’s industrial engineering and construction unit, Italy’s Enel SpA and Saudi-owned ACWA Power International are in the lead to develop the project. While Abengoa has developed projects like this before, Enel has only 230 MW in solar development.
Major industrial giants like Siemens, Mitsubishi, Daewoo, Lockheed Martin and Sener were shut out.
The World Development Movement claims that using Clean Technology Fund money for the solar project would be a misuse of funds, as it claims that the program is intended partly to reduce poverty, and “to prioritise projects that tackle poverty and aid transition to a low carbon economy, instead of subsidising multinational companies.”
But the objective of the Clean Technology Fund is to invest in clean energy projects in developing nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions of the recipient country over the long term, according to WRI.
As solar projects go mainstream, they are increasingly developed by very large engineering firms. Saudi Arabia has a $109 billion solar plan to power one third of its country, for example. This will not be developed by small companies.
According to the World Bank [PDF] the bids must support local manufacturers within a regulatory framework that requires investment locally, where bids must specify local content clauses, including technical education and R&D.
Morocco is ideally situated for hosting this giant solar project for the Desertec plan to power Europe from the Sahara, because it has the solar insolation, the strong government support and existing grid connections with ALgeria and Spain.
But another key reason that the World Bank selected Morocco for funding was the existence of a local manufacturing base with already existing industries, with the ability to supply the project from the most basic raw materials through to the final metal structures, electric and electronic equipment.
As the North African deserts becomes a hub for CSP solar power, driven by Desertec, it will increasingly develop and hone an expertise in solar project development that will add jobs as a thriving clean technology sector develops in the region.
It would be a pity if changing the emphasis to poverty reduction within the Clean Technology Fund program led to weakening its far more far-reaching good it can do in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by helping the developing world hurdle the pollutants that threaten us all, and most particularly, the poor, by developing a solar power industry supply chain in Morocco.
Image of solar thermal from Abengoa