Five days after authorisations for the construction of 10 plants of 1 Megawatt (4 projects) and 10 MW (6 projects) were granted and energy purchase contracts were signed by STEG, the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Renewable Energy has launched two calls for pre-qualification application for the implementation under concession of 8 other power plants totaling 1000 MW.
The first call is intended for developers of photovoltaic solar power plants (5) with a total capacity of approximately 500 MW, and the second for wind power plants (3) with a total capacity of approximately 500 MW.
“This is the first time that Tunisia has launched projects of this size, which will reduce the energy deficit, increase the security of energy supply in our country and boost growth”, boasted Minister of Energy Khaled Kaddour.
Indeed, Tunisia had adopted in 2016 an energy transition strategy providing for the establishment of conditions for a “progressive and balanced” transformation of the current energy model.
This strategy does not foresee a sudden disconnection of the conventional network, but rather, the diversification of energy sources, the promotion of solar and wind power in particular, and a use exploitation of energy efficiency deposits.
In the long term, as part of its climate commitments, the country plans to build the pillars of a green economy by 2050. This and many other energy targets could have been achieved much earlier, if Tunisia had taken seriously the issue of energy dependence and seized the opportunity of alternative energies, especially solar energy.
For, compared to other neighbouring countries such as Morocco (2020 Ourzazate park target in 2020) or distant such as Cape Verde or Costa Rica which is about to be freed from the fossil and totally de-carbonised, Tunisia faces several economic and ecological challenges and takes time to balance its energy mix and to control the deficit, for lack of strategic decisions, of little ambition and the blocking of the solar plan, whose first version dates back to 2009.
It is likely to miss the boat again, according to macro-economist Mohamed Cheikh, who extols the merits of solar energy on social networks through a FB page “Plan Solaire.tn 2030 => 100% ENR”.
“Tunisia has 100km2 of roofs that could be equipped with solar panels. These panels could generate 17 billion kW per year while our electricity consumption is estimated at less than 15 billion kilowatts (report of STEG 2016), of which only 0.5 comes from renewable energy (wind and solar)”, according to him.
The transfer of electricity from the plants to end consumers could cause the loss of 16% of the electricity while the on-site supply (self-production / consumption) of energy causes a loss of only 6%.
“It is necessary to adopt the principles of the social and solidarity economy to make a successful democratisation of energy production and make vastly profitable the solar energy wealth,” said Cheikh.
Energy deficit leaves no choice
This move towards renewable energy, whose global context is more favorable than ever (lower solar PV costs on the world market, facilities of the Paris agreement on climate …), is no longer an option for Tunisia since about 97% of its electricity needs come from fossil fuels (gas and oil).
Aware of this problem and its negative impact on public finances, the BCT recommended, during the first quarter of 2018, the implementation of an energy efficiency programme that focuses on the diversification of sources, namely the use of renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.), the rationalisation of consumption and the acceleration of investments in exploration and development.
The cost of solar photovoltaic technologies has decreased by more than 80% since 2009 and is expected to drop by 59% by 2025, making solar photovoltaic the mode of generating electricity the least expensive, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Tunisia may well take advantage of this downward trend to invest more in solar PV and thus manage to reduce its energy deficit that has become structural and exorbitant to reach 1.382 billion dinars (MD) during the first quarter of 2018, according to the BCT.
The country would also gain from the burden of energy subsidies (oil products and electricity), which should cost the state, this year, 3 billion dinars against 1.5 billion dinars planned in the 2018 State budget and this because of the rise in the oil barrel price, according to minister responsible for economic reforms Taoufik Rajhi.
The country has, moreover, excellent weather conditions (sunshine rate exceeding 3000 hours / year) and other advantages (skills, installation, infrastructures, international support: UNDP, German Cooperation …), to increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix, currently limited to 3% and develop the installed photovoltaic capacity, which amounts to only 35 MW, with national needs in electricity produced from renewable energies not yet satisfied for the period 2017 -2020, of about 60 MW.
Resistances to overcome
In 2015, when the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) was preparing to adopt the law on the production of electricity from renewable energies, sit-ins were staged outside the parliament in protest against this law.
Members of the union of STEG (Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company), the only producer and manager of the electricity network in Tunisia, were categorically opposed to this project.
They protested against the law, fearing for their jobs and worried about their network competing with self-production, especially since the cost of self-generated electricity could be lower than the one purchased from the national electricity grid.
“The goal of this project is to privatise the sector since there is a desire to allow foreign investors to install solar or wind energy production units, particularly in the region of Kebili, to sell this energy to the STEG by applying exorbitant tariffs,” warned the union.
“Despite this opposition, the parliament finally passed the law on April 15, 2015, with a” relative “unanimity (87 for, 7 against and 12 abstentions) and decrees of law were submitted to a national consultation,” said chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Industry and Natural Resources, Ameur Larayedh.
According to him, the promotion of renewable energy is now subject of consensus between the three executive, legislative and political powers.
Today, STEG wants to become a stakeholder and partner of private electricity producers (the company is committed to the production of 300 MW of solar energy and 80 MW of wind energy).
Public and private actors must understand that renewable energies are no longer a luxury for Tunisia, but an unavoidable choice.
Reviewing the energy subsidy system
A former STEG executive and international energy consultant, Hamadi Hizem, warned, at a recent meeting on the role of civil society in promoting renewable energy, that “if we continue to over-use energy, without limits, rationalisation, or alternatives, we may experience “blackouts”, similar to those of Tokyo in 2002 and 2016, when thousands of homes, large office buildings and public administrations, were deprived of electricity because of an overload, and Tunisia has been the victim of this type of incident for more than 2 hours on August 31, 2014.
“The right to energy must not be accessible to everyone at the same quantitative and limitless level, it is necessary to rationalise and direct the subsidy towards low-income groups.”
It is time to impose on energy-intensive enterprises an energy “commitment”, the consultant proposed.
Indeed, a World Bank study (2013) entitled “Towards greater equity: energy subsidies, targeting and social protection in Tunisia” confirmed this “energy inequity”. The lowest incomes receive only 13 percent of energy subsidy spending in Tunisia while higher-income households get 29 percent, the study found.
The energy transition is particularly important because the risks of supply become greater in an unstable geopolitical context as is the case for Tunisia.
By: Meriem Khadhraoui – Translated by Samir Ben Romdhane