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Nearly Everyone Has a Mobile!

FILE: The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are displayed at the Apple Fifth Avenue store, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in New York.
FILE: The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are displayed at the Apple Fifth Avenue store, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in New York.

Nearly three quarters of people over the age of 10 now own a mobile phone, potentially opening the way to broader internet use, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union has provided its first estimate of regional and global ownership, revealing that 73 percent of the world's population over 10 years of age owned a cellphone in 2022.

"Mobile phones are the most common gateway to internet use, with the percentage of ownership serving as an indicator of internet availability and access," the ITU said as it launched its annual report on global connectivity.

The ITU found that mobile phone ownership had grown steadily in recent years, estimating it had risen from under 67 percent in 2019.

The online population also saw a big "bump" up in 2020 during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, ITU senior economist Thierry Geiger told AFP.

Unsurprisingly, ownership was highest in wealthy countries, where 95 percent of people currently own a mobile phone, and lowest in low-income countries, where only 49 percent do, the ITU said.

"Mobile phones are the most common gateway to internet use, with the percentage of ownership serving as an indicator of internet availability and access," the ITU said as it launched its annual report on global connectivity.

But it cautioned that mobile phone ownership remains higher than internet use -- especially in lower-income countries, with broadband usually more expensive than cellular-only services.

The UN's telecoms agency says roughly a third of the planet has still never been online.

But the online population has been increasing and an estimated 5.3 billion people, or 66 percent of people worldwide, are now using the internet.

"Access to the internet is increasing, but not as quickly and evenly across the world as it needs to," Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who heads the ITU's telecommunications development division and will soon take over as agency chief, said in the statement.

"Too many people still live in digital darkness."

According to Wednesday's report, the global median price of mobile-broadband services dropped from 1.9 percent of average gross national income (GNI) per capita last year to 1.5 percent now.

However, the cost still remains too high for the average consumer in most low-income economies, where a basic mobile data plan is estimated to cost nine percent of GNI per capita.

The ITU called on all countries to ensure affordable broadband access, defined as costing less than two percent of GNI per capita.

While the cost of connectivity appears to be continuing its decline, Geiger warned rising costs for other necessities could force many to move offline.

The ITU report also found a significant gender gap: some 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men.

Only 63 percent of women are currently using the internet, compared to 69 percent of men, it said.



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Dispute Over Technology Impedes Morocco Solar Projects

FILE —Aerial view of the Noor 3 solar power station, near Ouarzazate, southern Morocco, April. 1, 2017. The king unveiled one of the world's biggest solar plants, taking advantage of the Sahara sunshine and a growing global push for renewable energy.
FILE —Aerial view of the Noor 3 solar power station, near Ouarzazate, southern Morocco, April. 1, 2017. The king unveiled one of the world's biggest solar plants, taking advantage of the Sahara sunshine and a growing global push for renewable energy.

RABAT —A dispute over concentrated solar power (CSP) technology is behind years of delays to Morocco's biggest planned solar project after problems at another prominent plant that caused long shut downs, three sources close to the project said.

FILE —A picture taken on February 4, 2016 shows an aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, ahead of its inauguration.
FILE —A picture taken on February 4, 2016 shows an aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, ahead of its inauguration.

Morocco has some of the most ambitious green energy goals of any developing nation, aiming for renewables to represent 52% of installed capacity by 2030 from 37.6% now, mostly through investments in solar and wind plants.

However, it is already falling behind on solar, with only 831 megawatts (MW) installed so far compared to the 2,000 MW that was planned for 2020. Wind has made up some of the shortfall but polluting coal plants still make up most output. Construction has not even started on the planned $2 billion 800 MW Noor Midelt I plant, which was meant to start operating this year, after the Energy Ministry and grid operator ONEE rejected the proposed CSP technology, the sources said.

FILE —An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate on February 4, 2016.
FILE —An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate on February 4, 2016.

State energy agency MASEN awarded the contract to develop Noor Midelt I in 2019 to a consortium led by EDF Renouvelables. It asked for the plant to have both photovoltaic (PV) technology, which is cheaper but has little ability to store power, and CSP, which is more expensive but continue powering the grid for hours after dark.

However, after the contract was awarded ONEE and the Energy Ministry said they would only agree to buy the power if MASEN either abandoned CSP for PV or changed from thermal salt energy storage to batteries, the sources said.

MASEN and the grid eventually signed a power purchase agreement, but there are still discussions between MASEN and the development consortium over the technology specifications, the sources said.

MASEN says the project was delayed due to the pandemic and is now in the final stage of development but it did not respond to a specific Reuters request for comment on the technology dispute.

FILE—Pablo Ines, of Spain, walks in the building site of Morocco's Noor I solar power plant, near Ouarzazate, Morocco, April, 24, 2015 .
FILE—Pablo Ines, of Spain, walks in the building site of Morocco's Noor I solar power plant, near Ouarzazate, Morocco, April, 24, 2015 .

EDF Renouvelables said Morocco had decided to restart the development in 2022 with a mix of PV, CSP and battery storage. It said the project was "at the final stage of development" and all partners "remain committed."

The Energy Ministry did not comment directly on the problems at Noor Midelt but it said it "tries to be as technology agnostic" as it can as long as costs, sustainability and security objectives are maintained to avoid undue risk.

The World Bank and the European Investment Bank said their financing terms for the project remain valid as discussions continue between MASEN and the consortium. The World Bank said construction will take 30 months once negotiations end.

CSP Plant Difficulties

ONEE cited problems at Noor Ouarzazate, Morocco's best-known solar complex, as the reason for wanting MASEN to change the technology at Noor Midelt, the sources said.

FILE — King Mohammed VI of Morocco waves a Moroccan flag as Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy CEO Mustapha Bakkoury, 2nd right, applauds during the launch of the Noor Ouarzazate 4 solar plant, in Ouarzazate, central Morocco, April 1, 2017.
FILE — King Mohammed VI of Morocco waves a Moroccan flag as Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy CEO Mustapha Bakkoury, 2nd right, applauds during the launch of the Noor Ouarzazate 4 solar plant, in Ouarzazate, central Morocco, April 1, 2017.

Technological problems stopped all output at a 150 MW plant there for a year from summer 2021, said two of the sources. "Noor Ouarzazate helped put Morocco on the global map of large-scale renewable energy projects. But a closer look in terms of operation costs and maintenance issues show that the plant is rather a liability," said a source close to Noor Midelt I.

"With hindsight, Ouarzazate served as a testing ground for an immature CSP technology," said another source.

Morocco's economic, social, and environmental council recommended abandoning CSP altogether in a 2020 report due to its high cost compared to PV and wind. That report said MASEN was operating an $80 million a year deficit at the Noor Ouarzazate complex because it is selling power for less than the production cost.

MASEN, which commissioned Noor Ouarzazate, said the plant had shown "good performance in 2023 both on peak and off-peak hours." It added that CSP technology was a solution that offers storage, helping address grid needs at peak hours.

ACWA Power, the developer of Noor Ouarzazate, and grid operator ONEE did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

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