Algeria revises upwards its ambitions in solar energy

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The solar power plant of the public company Sonatrach in Bir Rebaa, in south-eastern Algeria, in November 2018.

Is Algeria going to start its energy transition on a forced march? On November 21, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune set three months, not one more, as the deadline “To the establishments and structures of the State” to switch to solar power. Municipalities will also have to take the plunge for public lighting, including in mountainous and isolated areas.

With 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, there is no shortage of resources. However, it is not or very little exploited: Algeria continues to produce 99% of its electricity from the gas drawn from its soil. Fossil energy is used more and more to meet domestic demand, energy consumption having jumped by 60% between 2011 and 2020, according to Noureddine Yassa, president of the Commission for renewable energies and energy efficiency (Cerefe).

To be able to continue exporting its production – hydrocarbons (natural gas and crude oil) represented 91% of exports in 2020 and still constitute the country’s main foreign exchange earnings – the authorities have called for “Rationalize local gas consumption”. But is the solar alternative viable?

” Waste “

Algeria, which adopted a national renewable energy program (ENR) in 2011, remains far from its objectives. “Wasting threatens the lifespan of the remaining fossil fuel reserves and it is certainly the awareness of this situation that imposes the need to accelerate the energy transition. But the national program for the 2030 deadline provided for 22,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity. [dont 10 000 MW destinés à l’export]. The balance sheet, namely less than 1% of the 22,000 MW envisaged, is too low ”, deplorese Tewfik Hasni, former vice-president of Sonatrach, the Algerian hydrocarbons company.

All sources combined, the installed renewable energy capacities currently do not exceed 500 MW. To concentrate efforts, a ministry of energy transition and renewable energies was created in June 2020. It is responsible for carrying out the government plan, the objectives of which have been reduced to 4,000 MW by 2024 and 15 000 MW by 2035.

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A call for tenders, delayed for several months, should be launched before the end of the year as part of a first project, the Solar 1000, which will see the construction of photovoltaic solar power plants with a capacity of 1000 MW. . Eleven sites located in wilayas in the south of the country, in particular in Ouargla, El Oued, Ghardaïa and Béchar, have already been selected.

In search of financing, Algeria also revised rule 51/49, which limited foreign participation to 49% of the capital of an Algerian company. This no longer concerns projects linked to renewable sources. “It’s a big step forward”, notes Myriam Fournier Kacimi, director of Sungy, a solar project design and development office installed in Algeria since 2014.

“An overpriced alternative”

Supporting better access to the electricity network, greater involvement of the banking sector and a reform of subsidies, the business manager is convinced that “The market will explode”. “The standardization and professionalization of the sector should follow”, she thinks.

An enthusiasm that does not fully share Mohammed Abdennacer Naili, founder of Shames Djazair, a company specializing in the marketing and distribution of photovoltaic products. “For consumers, solar remains an overpriced alternative. One of the solutions is to review taxation to lower the cost of equipment ”, argues this young engineer of 23, who is convinced that Algeria should focus “On the development of small and medium-sized plants” before targeting large-scale projects.

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Today, the strong subsidy of electricity prices does not encourage individuals to turn to clean energy, but “We cannot abruptly increase prices either”, emphasizes Mohammed Abdennacer Naili. The Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency Commission is calling for the introduction of “Smooth real electricity prices, by replacing generalized subsidies for electric power with more targeted aid on small self-consumption installations for the most disadvantaged categories”. A change that could hardly be done in three months.

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Algeria revises upwards its ambitions in solar energy