Economic View

On the future of hydroelectricity in Morocco and beyond

To what extent does Morocco’s legal framework encourage private investment in electricity production?

OMAR BELMAMOUN: The sector regulation, Law 13-09, as well as its appendant rules under Law 48-15, aim to enhance the attractiveness of renewable energy projects for investors. These laws allow private entities to sell excess electricity to the Electricity and Water Office (Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable, ONEE) up to a limit of 20% of annual production, thus providing them a degree of flexibility in operations. 

Furthermore, while a cap on power capacity for hydroelectric projects was imposed on private companies in the past, barring them from undertaking any project over 12 MW of installed capacity, a recent step towards further liberalisation has seen the maximum threshold for hydropower plants increase from 12 MW to 30 MW. Morocco is thus an example of an African country that is taking active measures to enhance investment in renewable energy schemes, and Platinum Power is proof that private investment can lead to successful projects, as six of our hydroelectric power plants recently received the green light from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development. 

Through these projects, we aim to produce electricity for the national grid from the Ahansal waterfall in Azilal Province. The sites include Tamajout, which will have a 30-MW capacity, Tillouguit Aval (30 MW), Bab Ouender (30 MW) and Boutferda (18 MW), for which we were granted the right to increase production capacity over 12 MW. The undertaking also includes two brand new plants of 24 MW each, for a total capacity of 156 MW.

How could hydroelectric projects in the country be made more attractive?

BELMAMOUN: The main challenges of power generation through renewable sources is improving energy storage and mitigating the risk of irregularity. This irregularity still forces Morocco to import 25% of its electricity from Spain at peak times, a situation that hydro projects could help address. 

However, to really increase investment in the sector, decision-makers should change their mindset on modular energy, which requires a long-term financial approach. Hydroelectricity cannot compete against wind energy in terms of costs when looking at a 20-year time horizon, but it can when infrastructure remains in place for a century. We need to find new ways to incentivise more modular power generation investments, or Morocco will always be energy dependent during periods of high consumption. These investments do not have to be carried out by government spending alone if private actors see the benefits of taking their share. 

Still, the threat of water scarcity in Morocco can make the risk analysis of hydroelectricity projects less clear. The recent discoveries of gas resources should therefore lead to new modular power projects as well. With the right approach, gas, which is a resource that lends itself well to incremental development, could boost the use of renewables by mitigating power generation irregularities, not to mention aiding in the development of a whole new scope of industries.
What is the perception of Moroccan expertise in the renewable energy sphere?

BELMAMOUN: As a local entity, we have been experiencing a very positive evolution of Morocco’s image in Africa and the world when it comes to renewable developments. The country’s leadership and the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy have seen their efforts bear fruit with multiple calls for tender on renewable energy projects. Success stories like these help improve Morocco’s economic diplomacy on the continent and are a key factor in the expansion of local companies in foreign markets. 

African markets will inevitably become more competitive and Moroccan energy companies need to grow roots right now, going beyond regional neighbours such as Côte d’Ivoire or Senegal. Platinum Power sees favourable business circumstances in Central Africa – we have a large project in Cameroon, for example – with Rwanda and Sudan being great markets, too. Africa has flown under the radar for hydroelectric projects for a while, and it remains challenging to do business here – mainly due to territorial disputes over water basins – but it is definitely a land of opportunity.