Growth of solar energy production in Maghreb

Solar energy, clean energy, energy transition, photovoltaic, solar“Sunlight is of no use if you keep your eyes shut”, says an Arab proverb. Although North Africa is endowed with fossil fuels, for the last five years governments have demonstrated their genuine desire to achieve energy transition, for example through significant solar infrastructure works.

Solar energy to improve trade balance

North African countries set themselves ambitious goals for solar energy production. Morocco’s target is 2 GigaWatts by 2020, Tunisia’s is 1.76 GW by 2030, while Algeria aims for no less than 12GW.

At this point Morocco has come the closest to reaching its targets, thanks to the Moroccan Solar Programme launched in 2010 by the French and Moroccan ministers of ecology, respectively Jean-Louis Borloo and Amina Ben Khadra. Algeria can boast the inauguration of the first hybrid power station worldwide in Hassi R’Mel, an installation combining gas and solar to generate electricity. On the other hand, Tunisia just announced it launched its first CPV (Concentrating Photovoltaic) station to power irrigation in dry zones. Project managers stress that this technology should significantly lower the power bills of local farmers.

The long-term goal is to control the costs of this technology so as to be able to export renewable energy-based electricity to Europe. This hypothesis is made plausible by a 2012 report by Ernst&Young, which ranks Morocco as the 9th most attractive country worldwide for investments in solar energy. This solar-based power would be transported from Morocco to Spain via two extra-high voltage power cables (400 kV).

Moving towards reinforced regional partnership?

Since 1974 COMELEC (Maghreb Electricity Committee) has fostered regional cooperation on electricity generation issues. This association groups the sector’s main players, such as SONELGAZ (Algeria), ONE (Morocco) and STEG (Tunisia).

COMELEC held its fifth general conference on November 13, 2012, which provided an opportunity to put renewed emphasis on the need for pooling human resources in the region as well as the necessary enhancement of connection between national grids. Tunisia’s minister of industry mentioned the renewable energy issue in his speech, saying that “Maghreb countries must unify strategies and coordinate efforts in order to make efficient and clean energy available for local populations.”

Not just regional organizations are pushing for partnership on renewable energy-based electricity generation; civil society also plays an active role. As Maghreb governments were considering shale-gas drilling, demonstrations recently took place in Algeria and Tunisia, reflecting the objection of some associations to the use of a new kind of hydrocarbon fuel.

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