On the sidelines of the Africa Renewable Energy Forum organized recently in Casablanca, Africa.com met Amine Lahlou, a Moroccan expert in renewable energies, board member of Morocco’s Solar and Renewable Energy Association, and CEO of Quardran Morocco, known previously as Maroc Renewables.
In this interview, Mr. Lahlou, one of the speakers during the forum, shares with us his thoughts concerning the current situation of the sector of renewables in Morocco, and Africa, and the possibilities of its growth.
AFRICA.COM: How is the sector of renewable Energies in Morocco now?
I’m here in this forum to represent AMISOLE Association (Moroccan Association of Solar and Wind Industries (translated), which is an association that gathers all private sector companies working in the sector of renewable energies. In fact, in Morocco, there are many interesting projects that we can talk about, such as the project of Noor in Ouarzazate, and other projects launched by the National Office of Electricity (ONE). Additionally, in Morocco, we also have some great projects for the SMEs regarding the extension of the culture of using renewable energies. They are, for example, connected to the grid, but they believe they can have better electricity prices by producing their own electricity through renewables. And, it is true today in Morocco regarding the electricity, companies, and institutions can decrease their consumption on the grid by 50% by producing their own electricity. It is an investment that is easy to achieve considering there is help, as well as funds from banks that have distinct loans for such projects. Within five to seven years maximum, borrowers can complete the payments of the loan concerning the whole installation, which will be used for 20 to 25 years. Therefore, after the payment, they will have electricity for free.
Briefly, believing in renewable energies has become a must. In agriculture today in Morocco, to bring water, for example, we use pumps with gas. This gas is dangerous to use in agriculture because you need to use maybe 20 or 40 bottles of gas at a specific price to bring water. With the solar renewable system, you eliminate these dangerous practices.
AFRICA.COM: As professionals in this sector, what is the main challenge?
I would say that the main challenge today is how to make these prices decrease more and more because the cheaper the solution will be, the more people will be interested in them. Today, when you say to people that they will reduce 20% of their costs, yes, it is interesting, but for companies, the situation is complicated. There must be, first, a wide interest in renewable energies by making more and more people and institutions aware of the importance of producing their own electricity. People should understand that when you say producing electricity from wind or solar, it doesn’t mean just for house lighting. We need to change the idea about renewable energies. We can produce energy for whatever we need it for; I mean, a variety of daily activities.
AFRICA.COM: What makes Morocco one of leading countries in Africa when it comes to the sector of renewables?
First of all, Morocco invested in the sector of the renewables since the 80s. Years ago, Morocco built the first wind farm in the late 80s. It was one of the biggest here in Africa, so we have long experience in the sector of renewable energies. What I can say is that we have strengthened this experience. Last year, there was the COP 22 in Marrakech. I think it all started with the king’s decision to have a strategic independence in terms of energy. Till now, we do import 94% of our energy, so we are highly dependent on importation. The decision of the king is strategic since we have resources in terms of wind and solar; they are here, and there are technologies to use them at an interesting price. It is, in fact, logical that Morocco is interested now in renewables. Morocco wants to reach 42 % of renewables in its electricity production by 2020. It seems ambitious, but we will reach it…definitely, we will reach it. It is a governmental approach, the king’s approach, and we are here as the private sector to go further so as to put into action this approach.
AFRICA.COM: In Africa, we have noticed that SMEs are finding it difficult to grow in a sector where large companies control the market… what do you think?
I think in the sector of renewable energies, all sizes of companies can work. When you install solar panels on a house, for example, only a small company can do it. It is easy to install solar panels. Additionally, training is very important. In Morocco, there are some institutions that promote the training of technicians to do operations and maintenance. We have some master’s degrees in renewable energies, including wind, solar, and biomass. I think there is a place for all types of companies to work in the sector, and there is a need for that.
AFRICA.COM: What do you think about the sector of renewable energies in Africa? Is it really growing?
Definitely! Renewable energies in Africa is a rich and growing market since there is still a lack of energy, a lack of electricity in so many regions. Our new ways of living…for example, the use of mobile phones has brought new needs, even in countrysides. Therefore, since we need to recherché our phones, we need electricity. You know, all African countries have resources if we are really interested in producing renewable energies.
AFRICA.COM: What is needed now in Africa regarding renewable?
First of all, a legal framework. If you want the private sector to invest, you have to trust in your legal framework, which means am I able and allowed to invest in such a country? Am I allowed to sell electricity? Secondly, companies need incentives. If I am allowed to sell my electricity at a low price, I need to be compensated whether by a financial institution or by the government. The difference has to be paid if we want to reduce prices.
Generally, we need to find a system to bring a solution to the question of prices. We always buy, for example, panels from abroad. I think it is high-time to think about making panels in our countries and not importing them. In fact, thanks to the training done in African countries, I think we can go further in this sector.
AFRICA.COM: What does the Africa Renewable Energy Forum represent for you?
This forum is an engagement of the people that come here to share their experience to find new solutions and to say, “Yes! Renewable energy is a solution for Africa for different reasons.” Each country has its own situation and experience. Yes, we are different, but we are all together to say that renewables, as a sector, is a true solution for protecting the environment and finding alternatives to the classical energies. In Africa, we don’t have a nuclear energy, for example, and we even say that we don’t need it; we don’t want it since we can go further to renewable energy, as it is the cheapest, the cleanest, and easiest to install.