Tunisia opens arms as power struggle worsens


July 15, 2016

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Investment activity in wind in Egypt and Morocco has picked up pace in the last two years. Now Tunisia is looking to be the next north African nation out of the blocks.

Mongi Marzouk, who has served as Tunisia’s energy and mines minister since the start of this year, is leading the charge. The country currently has 245MW of wind capacity, which has not grown for the last three years, and renewables represent just 4% of its total energy supply. Marzouk wants to grow renewables to 30% of total supplies, or 16GW, by 2030 — and we expect around 40% of this to be in wind.

He told an event in Berlin that this would lead to investment opportunities worth $7bn by 2030, including $1.6bn by 2020. The ministry plans to build almost 1.5GW of wind farms by 2020, which it said would require total investment of around $680m.

It is easy for politicians to throw around these kinds of numbers, but we see good reasons to think he is serious. Tunisia is looking to reduce its reliance on the fossil fuels that make up around 95% of its energy resources, and this is due to concerns about the environment. No, the government sees renewables as one way to help it address social unrest.

Tunisia has been in a fragile state since the Arab Spring revolution that started in late 2010 and resulted in the ousting of long-term Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, among others.

The country has been more successful than its regional neighbours in moving to a democracy and introducing a constitution after the revolution, but that does not mean all is well.

Since 2011, it has witnessed a host of terror attacks, including at Bardo Museum in Tunis and the beach in Sousse, both in 2015, where a total of 59 people died. These have done major damage to the tourism sector and harmed an already-slow economy.

This economic slowdown has also contributed to problems in the local energy market. Low oil prices globally in the last two years have undermined oil production in Tunisia, and production is one quarter lower than it was in 2010. Oil majors have been pulling out.

As a result, the country has been forced to make up the gap with natural gas imports, but the cost of these has grown by 45% to $2.5bn since 2010, which is not sustainable. That is why the country is now looking to make up the shortfall in its energy production using wind, solar and, to a lesser extent, biomass. Moving towards cost-competitive renewable energy sources should help introduce a little more stability in a country that sorely needs it.

The will is there and European investors are taking notice.

Moncef Herabi, director-general at state utility Société Tunisienne de l’Electricité et du Gaz, said that 35 companies from France, Belgium and Spain expressed an interest in a tender that it ran for developers of sub-30MW wind farms and sub-10MW solar farms. We would expect many of the investors from Europe and elsewhere that are targeting work in Egypt and Morocco to show interest in Tunisia too, particularly as larger projects emerge.

This is not without risk, but it could signal the start of an energy revolution in Tunisia. Not as earth-shaking as the Arab Spring, of course, but significant nonetheless.

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