Water Scenarios Modelling for Renewable Energy Development in Southern Morocco
Water and energy are two pivotal areas for future sustainable development, with complex linkages existing between the two sectors. These linkages require special attention in the context of the energy transition. Against this background, this paper analyses the role of water availability in the development of solar thermal and photovoltaic power plants for the case of the Drâa Valley in southern Morocco. Located in a semi-arid to arid mountainous area, the Drâa Valley faces high water stress – a situation expected to worsen due to climate change. At the same time, the region has one of the greatest potentials for solar energy in the world. To examine whether limited water availability could accelerate or delay the implementation of solar thermal and photovoltaic power plants, this paper compares regional water availability and demand in the Drâa Valley for different scenarios, paying particular attention to potential socio-economic development pathways. The Water Evaluation and Planning System software is applied to allocate the water resources in the study region. The water supply is modelled under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 climate scenario, while the water demand for the Drâa Valley is modelled for a combination of three socio-economic and two energy scenarios. The climate scenario describes a significant decrease in water availability by 2050, while the socio-economic and energy scenarios show an increase in water demand. The results demonstrate that during a sequence of dry years the reservoirs water availability is reduced and shortages in water supply can result in high levels of unmet demand. If this situation occurs, oasis farming, water for drinking and energy production could compete directly with each other for water resources. The energy scenarios indicate that the use of dry cooling technologies in concentrated solar power and photovoltaic hybrid systems could be one option for reducing competition for the scarce water resources in the region. However, given that energy generation accounts for only a small share of the regional water demand, the results also suggest that socio-economic demand reduction, especially in the agricultural sector, for example by reducing the cultivated area, will most likely become necessary.