Morocco’s Maghreb Industries gets powered up by solar energy

By Malina Gont


FINTECC financed rooftop solar installation at confectionery producer 

Based in Casablanca, Morocco, Maghreb Industries is a leading confectionery and chewing-gum producer, primarily oriented towards exports. More than half of its yearly production goes to the United States of America, Europe and Africa. For years, the company ran a steady business model until one day two years ago, when CEO Hakim Marrakchi went to visit a customer’s chocolate factory in Belgium. Then things took an unexpected turn.

“The factory was producing and running on solar energy,” Marrakchi says. “And I thought to myself, if they can produce solar in Belgium, where it rains all the time, then why can’t we produce it in Morocco, where we have so much sun?”

It turned out to be a good question, one that Marrakchi tried to answer by seeking assistance from the EBRD. And so, with finance provided by the Bank through its Finance and Technology Transfer Centre for Climate Change (FINTECC), Maghreb Industries was able to install a photovoltaic (solar energy) plant on the roof of its new factory, along with various energy-efficiency measures that have helped reduce the company’s energy costs by 60 per cent.

A difficult balance

By the time Marrakchi decided to invest in renewable energy, improving energy use for his facilities was already high on his list of priorities. The factory had high energy requirements and costs had been rising sharply due to global price fluctuations (Morocco imports 97 per cent of its energy) and falling government subsidies.

Although solar power was an obvious solution in theory, putting it into practice was more complicated, Marrakchi explains.

“For an efficient energy system to work, you need to have a balance between energy produced and energy consumed,” he says. “Our energy needs vary widely and we wouldn’t always need all the energy the solar plant would produce. However, you can’t inject excess electricity into the national grid in Morocco, so we needed to find a way to store it.”

 

The EBRD’s FINTECC (Finance and Technology Transfer Centre for Climate Change) programme is part of a global drive towards climate technology transfer for developing countries and countries in transition.

 

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Innovative system reduces costs and reliance on national grid

Working with FINTECC experts, Marrakchi developed a solution that would allow Maghreb Industries to reap the benefits of solar power, while mitigating the risks and challenges. In addition to the EBRD’s €4.6 million loan to fund the construction of the new factory, FINTECC provided a €360,790 incentive grant and technical support financed by the European Union to implement a range of renewable-energy and energy-efficient technologies, including:

  • A rooftop photovoltaic installation: With a capacity of 1,361 kWp, the rooftop solar plant is the largest in Morocco. Surplus solar energy is used to heat boilers.
  • A cold-storage system: The innovative, ice-based energy-storage system allows energy to be drawn from the grid and stored during off-peak hours, for use by cold storage chillers during peak hours. This optimises capacity requirements, cuts costs and increases energy efficiency.
  • External insulation: Applied like paint to building facades, a thin, ceramic-based substance serves as an insulating coat on the exterior of the factory.
  • A heat-recovery chimney: A special system to capture waste heat in the boiler chimney improves the boiler’s efficiency.
  • An energy-management system (EMS): An electronic EMS collects data from all energy consumption points and aggregates them to a single, computer-based display system.
  • ISO 50001: Training was provided for the company to be able to implement this energy-management tool. Among other things, implementation required the firm to develop a formal energy-efficiency policy, with targets, indicators, measurement systems, and a continual review process looking at how and where they can make improvements.

 

Positive difference

According to Marrakchi, the system has not yet been fully implemented, but it is already making a positive difference — and more swiftly than anticipated.

“In addition to providing crucial financial and technical resources, the EBRD showed me the profit potential of this new system,” he says. “Initially I had planned to implement it slowly and step by step, but the fact that EBRD experts thoroughly audited our proposal — and found it sufficiently compelling to support — gave me the confidence to move more quickly.”

Currently, the solar plant is producing up to 60 per cent of the factory’s energy needs, decreasing the firm’s reliance on gasoline and expensive grid electricity. Air treatment — which accounts for 40 per cent of the factory’s energy consumption — is now much more efficient and cost-effective, thanks to the cold storage system.

Owing to these measures, Maghreb Industries is enjoying not only lower energy bills, but also a smaller carbon footprint — a benefit that Marrakchi believes may give the company a competitive edge among increasingly climate-conscious stakeholders in the USA and Europe.

Maghreb Industries is poised to continue benefiting from these efficiencies as it ramps up production to meet its 60 per cent sales-growth target by 2020. In the meantime, Marrakchi hopes that the example of Maghreb Industries will inspire other businesses in Morocco to explore solar power and improve energy efficiency.

“We’ve presented the project several times in the area and a number of companies have asked for our help doing the same,” he says. “The energy situation is difficult in Morocco, but difficulty provokes innovation.”

Morocco is a founding member of the EBRD and became a country of operations in 2012. To date, the Bank has invested over €1.2 billion in over 30 projects in the country. The Bank has also supported more than 340 Moroccan small and medium-sized enterprises by providing business advisory services.