Tunis, Rome [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] The promise of large-scale use of wind, solar, and other renewable energies across the Mediterranean region of North Africa received a major boost with the official launch of a new dedicated Center in Tunis, Tunisia focused specifically on promoting renewable energy projects.The Mediterranean Renewable Energy Centre (MEDREC), established by the Tunisian Ministry for Industry and Energy with funding from the Italian Ministry for the Environment and Territory (IMET), will promote and develop renewable technologies across the region. “Today we are taking a big step forward towards creating a strong market environment for renewable energy in the Mediterranean region,” said Corrado Clini, Director General of the Italian Ministry for the Environment and Territory. “MEDREC will help us to reach the objective we have identified at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg – to provide renewable energy to 100 millions of people in the next decade.” A donor-funded project within the Tunisian National Agency for Energy Conservation, MEDREC will provide training to experts, information dissemination, networking and financial support to pilot projects in the field of renewable energies. The first such pilot project — a loan facility designed to strengthen the market for solar water heating in Tunisia – was announced at the launch event by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The project, called “SOLdinars” (from the French ‘solaire’ for ‘solar’ and the Tunisian currency ‘dinars’) plans to finance 30,000 domestic solar water heaters in Tunisia in the next three to four years. “Even though a solar hot water system can payback the initial investment in as little as six years, the capital cost presents an impossible financial barrier for many families,” said Monique Barbut, Director of UNEP’s Division for Technology, Industry and Economics. “The new UNEP program will provide an interest rate subsidy and a capital cost subsidy that will significantly lower the solar water financing.” SOLdinar loans will be offered on terms of 60 months and an interest rate of approximately four percent, which is lower than the rate for mortgage finance. Current consumer loans carry an interest rate that is three times higher. The monthly loan repayments will also be structured to match current monthly spending on other forms of energy. Furthermore, it is envisaged that the project will contribute to the creation of a sustainable market for solar water heating systems, and bring social, economic and environmental benefits to Tunisia. “Finance facilities such as SOLdinars are needed to help developing countries tap their substantial renewable energy potential, create sustainable jobs, and reduce the environmental impacts of energy use such as air pollution and climate change,” Corrado Clini said. The Italian government is the main financial contributor to the SOLdinars project. Other partners include the Tunisian National Agency for Energy Conservation and the Tunisian State utility, Soci?t? Tunisienne de l’Electricit? et de Gaz (STEG).