Tunisia looks to wind in face of power deficit and rising fuel costs

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While total installed capacity in Tunisia has been static at 20 MW since 2003, it seems that things are about to get moving again. The long planned extension of the country's single installation, at Sidi Daoud on the north coast, to 55 MW is slated for completion by the end of the year. Gamesa is providing the turbines.

Furthermore, the outcome of a 2006 tender call for 120 MW of wind is expected in the next few months and, separately from that, various projects totalling 60-80 MW are under development. The incentive for the latest bout of activity is a new initiative facilitating own production of electricity by large industrial consumers, such as cement factories. Under the initiative, these generators can sell surplus power to state utility Societé Tunisienne d'Electicité et du Gaz (STEG) at TND 0.08/kWh (EUR 0.044/kWh).

Driving the market renewal are increased demand, a widening power deficit and rising fuel costs. In response, the government recently announced in its Energy Efficiency Plan 2008-2011 new targets for 4% of energy to be produced from renewables by 2011 and 6.5% by 2030. This compares to less than 1% today. The plan envisages a central role for solar and wind power, with wind providing 4.2% of total energy production from an installed capacity of around 175 MW by 2011. A 20% reduction of energy use is included.

Hansjoerg Mueller, head of the German Development Corporation (GTZ), in Tunisia, considers the wind energy target is achievable, largely because the solar power program is already well advanced and also because "the overall energy consumption should be considerably reduced by 2011, so the weight of renewables will increase."

The government is counting on the private sector, particularly international investors, responding to competitive tender calls to get wind turbines turning. While Tunisia has no specific law governing renewable energy, investors are eligible for a certain amount of state support, including tax relief and access to land at a "symbolic price." The government also says it will increase opportunities for the carbon credits from renewable energy in Tunisia to be marketed under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism.

By the end of 2008, the long-awaited Tunisian wind atlas should be completed. Initial results indicate a total resource of around 1000 MW, according to GTZ. Around 300 MW of this is in the north and north-east, where average winds reach 7-10 m/s. In addition, Tunisia has the advantage of a well-developed grid, connected to Europe via Algeria and Morocco and east to Libya. Eventually, the plan is to link through to Egypt and beyond, creating a North African grid.

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