Morocco is to build the world’s largest desalination plant that will run entirely on solar energy in a bid to offset water needs in the semi-arid southern region.
Morocco and Abengoa, a Spanish energy firm, signed a contract for the construction of a desalination plant and the development of an irrigation project in the Agadir region. The contract, which adds to one signed in 2014, outlines the construction of a plant with a production capacity of 100,000 cubic metres of water per day.
The $364.6 million seawater plant is expected to produce 450,000 cubic metres of water per day. However, it will initially begin with a production of about 275,000 cubic metres per day, 150,000 cubic metres of which would be for consumption and 125,000 cubic metres would be used for irrigating 13,600 hectares of agricultural fields in the Chtouka region.
Moroccan Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch said the project “is a lever for a sustainable socio-economic growth for the whole region.”
The Chtouka region employs about 100,000 people in the agricultural sector, which generates $1 billion. However, its water resources are under threat, which prompted the Moroccan government to act.
The plant is expected to cover the needs of more than 70,000 inhabitants, providing about 3.8 cubic metres water per day per person.
Abengoa will be responsible for the plant’s construction, development and maintenance of its infrastructure for at least 27 years.
The seawater desalination plant will be the largest solar-powered plant in the world. Moroccan leaders said the Noor Ouarzazate solar power station would be fully responsible for supplying it.
Desalination of seawater appears to be one of Morocco’s strategies to tackle the effects of climate change and meet chronic water shortages. The desalination plant is a major step for Morocco towards sustainable development, preserving its underground resources and promoting clean energy.
Cycles of drought over the last ten years in Morocco have been a major a cause for concern. The country’s population is expected to reach 38 million in 2030, meaning an increase in food and water consumption.
Last year’s summer heat waves resulted in the loss of 15,000 agricultural jobs in the second quarter of 2016, the High Commission for Planning said.
Scientists predict that, in the next decade, water scarcity in Morocco, which has a semiarid climate, will adversely affect the agricultural sector, which accounts for almost 15% of Morocco’s GDP and employs 40% of the country’s workforce.
Charafate Afailal, secretary of state for water, told L’Economiste that the only way to reduce the deficit in industrial or agricultural drinking water is by desalinating seawater in areas with high water demand and insufficient local resources.
“Desalination is called upon to play a major role in the future, with the gradual decline in costs,” said Afailal, adding that the use of unconventional resources was imperative.
A seawater desalination project is being launched to supply the northern city of Al Hoceima, which has been suffering from water disruptions.
Afailal said a large station for the Casablanca-Settat region was being studied to help secure access to drinking water for greater Casablanca.
Morocco has poured more than $100 million a year into providing drinking water for rural areas across the country.
Afailal told parliament that 96.5% of rural areas would have access to drinking water by the end of 2017, thanks to the completion of drinking water supply projects such as dams and the installation of regional drainage channels.
Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani has said other seawater desalination projects were planned in several coastal cities. However, he acknowledged that some regions suffer from disparities in drinking water supply, especially in the summer despite all the efforts to solve the problem.