As recently as May, 2018, the Tunisian authorities issued a call to tender for the construction of several solar power plants. Tunisia has fixed itself ambitious objectives in matters of energy mix but, for now, the results are meagre.
On 15th May, 2018, Tunisia announced pre-qualification for two international calls to tender for the construction of five solar photovoltaic power plants (500MW) and three wind farms (500MW) on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis, representing an estimated total investment of €1bn. Less than a week before, the government had given the go-ahead to the building of ten power plants, totalling 70MW and €65M in investment.
In presenting the two pre-application calls to the press, the Tunisian Minister for Energy Khaled Kaddour underlined that this marked the first time Tunisia was committing to “projects of this magnitude.” Indeed, the country’s current photovoltaic capacity is only 35MW.
Since 2016, Tunisia has been attempting to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels by diversifying its energy sources. “Energy today is a real handicap for the country,” affirms Kaddour. “Tunisia will not be able to continue to supply itself with energy at the same pace and with the same tools. We need to innovate in terms of projects and identify ways of financing them.”
Tunisia produces very little oil and imports most of the phossile energies it needs. Photo Caroline Garcia.
It’s a belated commitment compared to a country like Morocco, which is already heavily involved in solar and wind energy. The first Tunisian Solar Plan, announced in 2009, failed to get off the ground. In 2016, the country adopted an energy transition strategy designed to make up the lost ground. The plan is to increase the share of wind and solar energy sources in Tunisia’s electricity production from 2% to 30% by 2030.
As part of this Tunisian Solar Plan, the state operator STEG (Société Tunisienne de l’Electricité et du Gaz) has thus undertaken to produce 300MW of PV and 80MW of wind power for an investment of more than €350M.
Unfortunately, according to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), “despite the best efforts, the Tunisian Solar Plan’s roll-out rate still is falling short of the stated ambitions.” With more than 3000 hours of sunshine each year, the country has a considerable solar potential, but the tax system and administrative constraints have hindered projects.
According to Khalil Laabidi, President of the Tunisian Investment Authority, FDI (foreign direct investment) in the energy sector has fallen since the 2011 revolution. He believes the legislative review and review of the procedures to apply for grants have now been completed.
So Tunisia will once again be appealing to foreign investors, this time orienting capital towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. “Today, we are looking to make a comeback, but in a different way,” says Khalil Laabidi.