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Renewables in North Africa: A Nation-By-Nation Report Card

Electricity demand is soaring in Northern Africa nations (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) due to economic development, rising living standards, and other factors, but the existing power infrastructure is severely inadequate to handle it. Supply is plunging because of spiking demand in hot summers, threadbare infrastructure, political instability (especially since the 2011 Arab Spring), financing restrictions, and inadequate regulatory frameworks. Even so, power generation projects and structural reforms to support them are pushing forward in this region — and in many cases renewable energy is the best solution, particularly tapping into solar and wind resources, according to recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan.

Total power installed capacity in the North Africa region was roughly 61.6 GW in 2012, with renewable energy (mostly hydro) accounting for nearly 10 percent of that (6 GW). Total installed power capacity likely will double by 2020 to 120 GW. Four of the five nations rely heavily on natural gas (Morocco, with few resource options, mainly uses coal), and likely will continue to do so through the end of this decade — but all of them have lofty ambitions for developing renewable energy to offset acute power shortages especially in summer months, according to Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Celine Paton, author of the report Power Infrastructure Tracker in Northern Africa.

Each of these nations has a significant pipeline of power capacity projects, including ambitions for a lot more renewable energy, but when and how those plans materialize depends greatly on government stability and reforms both economic and regulatory — i.e. formation of independent electricity bodies and addressing electricity subsidies for conventional fossil fuel generation.

Power infrastructure statistics in Northern Africa in 2012. * Not all capacity is available.
**Solar component of integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power plants. Credit: Frost & Sullivan.

Here's a nation-by-nation summary of renewable energy drawing boards in Northern Africa:

Morocco

Morocco, which imports nearly all of its electricity, had slightly more than 2 GW of renewable energy installed capacity at the end of 2012, almost all of it owned by national utility ONEE, and most of it in hydro (1.77 GW), with the rest in wind (254 MW) and solar (20 MW) — but it has an aggressive renewable energy goal of 42 percent of installed capacity by 2020, including 2 GW each of solar and wind. There's a law (13-09) which allows renewable-generated electricity to be sold directly to grid-connected consumers instead of to ONEE.

Morocco's pipeline shows a number of sizeable (100 MW or larger) wind projects finishing completion and expected to be commissioned in 2014; developers include Nareva, UPC Renewables, EDF, Alstom, and CED (Theolia). A 318-MW concentrated solar (CSP) plant, NOOR 1 (Ouarzazate Phase I) is on the boards for 2015; further out are goals for 1.5 GW of solar in the 2018-2020 timeframe.

The tendering process continues for five wind farms totaling 850 MW in development between 2017-2020, with one among five pre-qualified groups to be selected to do them: Acciona/Al Ajial Funds, EDF/Mitsui/Alstom, ACWA Power/Gamesa, Nareva/TAQA/Enel Green Power/Siemens, and International Power/GDF Suez/Vestas. The aim also is to build up a local industry for component manufacturing/assembly. Investors being assembled include the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, Germany's KfW, and the European Union-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.

Algeria

In 2011 Algeria pledged to install 22 GW of renewable energy by 2030, roughly 40 percent of supply, with 12 GW for its own use and 10 GW for export. Small-scale deployments would begin by 2015, scaling up by 2020, including dozens of solar PV and CSP plants (Algeria has world-class insolation) and wind farms. As of 2012 Algeria had less than 300 MW of renewables, almost all of it in 1950s/1960s-era hydropower. The nation also hosts one of the first hybrid solar/combined cycle plants, with 20 MW of solar out of the 150 MW Hassi R'Mel plant, commissioned in 2011.

Much of Algeria's renewable projects in the pipeline are longer-range. The first 400-MW tranche of a 1.2 GW solar PV target was awarded to a Yingli-led consortium back in December. Beyond that, there's 2.5 GW of solar CSP and 516 MW of wind in the planning stages, eyeing commissioning in 2023.

Tunisia

Tunisia wants to make renewable energy up to 30 percent of its electricity generation by 2030, largely implemented through the Tunisian Solar Plan launched in 2009. Self-generators can sell their excess electricity from renewable sources to the Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas (STEG). The country, though, has been somewhat of a pioneer in renewable energy in the region, setting up regulatory, legal, and financial frameworks since the 1980s. A 20 MW wind power plant began operations back in 1999. As of 2012 Tunisia had about 66 MW of hydro plants (commissioned since 1956) and 173 MW of wind, spanning two plants commissioned and built by Gamesa; the smaller one (53 MW Sida Daoud) was commissioned in phases beginning in 2000.

Looking at Tunisia's pipeline, it has a 70 MW plant under construction also by Gamesa, a 50-MW CSP feasibility project targeting 2017, a 400-MW pump storage plant looking out beyond 2020. Two hybrid solar plans are still on the boards but seemingly shaky: a 1.2 GW CCGT or coal plant with CSP feasibility project is on "standby" and "likely to be cancelled," according to Frost & Sullivan, while an integrated solar/combined-cycle plant categorized as "pre-feasibility" is uncertain. Tunisia also has a proposed 2 GW CSP project also in the pre-feasibility stage with a vague window of planning through 2020.

Libya

Libya wants to make renewable energy contribute 3 percent of its total energy mix by 2015 and 10 percent by 2020, but officials have suggested even bigger goals of 20 percent using solar alone by 2020. That's significant, from a starting point of zero percent in 2012, and not much better in 2013 with barely 4 MW of installed solar PV. At the moment, oil is used to produce more than half the nation's energy with natural gas rapidly coming on behind it. The country also wants to double power generation within the next year and by 2.5x by 2020. Large-scale solar and wind, thanks to Libya's desert environment and long coastline, could play a big future role in energy demand both for domestic use and for export, but incentives must be created. A fraction of Libya's desert utilized for solar energy conceivably could power much of Europe, which of course has been the core theme of the Desertec Initiative, which wants to carpet parts of the Sahara with CSP and build out massive transmission infrastructure to get the power to demand centers in Europe.

And yet renewable energy uptake in Libya is severely hampered, both by the heavy reliance on oil/natural gas, but also geopolitical instability. Paton lists several hundred megawatts worth of wind and solar projects that have been proposed, planned, and contracted -- virtually all of which have no completion or commissioning date, and likely never will. "Many of these projects will not concretize any time soon, if at all," because of the national insecurity and subsequent lack of investors and companies willing to do business there.

Egypt

Egypt leads North Africa with installed renewable energy capacity, with 2.8 GW of hydro and nearly 550 MW of wind. (Though political instability there could open the door for Morocco to take the lead in the region's renewable energy fairly soon.) The Ministry of Electricity and Energy overseeing the Egyptian Electric Holding Company are seeking 20 percent of energy generation by renewable sources by 2020. Twelve percent of that would be from new wind farms, encompassing 7.2 GW, a third of which will be developed by the New & Renewable Energy Authority and two-thirds from the private sector. The remaining renewables push would be six percent from hydro and two percent from other renewables, mostly solar. The Egyptian Solar Plan, pledged in the summer of 2012, seeks to build out 3.5 GW of solar by 2027, most of that (2.8 GW) in CSP, and two-thirds of it privately developed.

Egypt's desire for renewables is clear, to help offset fuel shortages for conventional power plants. But those wind and solar goals, Paton cautions, are "very ambitious" given the prevailing political instability, "and it remains to be seen how these will evolve with time considering the numerous change of governments." And like Libya, a number of multi-hundred-megawatt wind and solar projects in the planning stages will depend greatly on investors' appetite for risk.

Lead image: Europe and North Africa, via Shutterstock

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