Interview: Slim Feriani

What steps are currently being taken to help Tunisia meet its energy needs?

SLIM FERIANI: Oil exports has historically been a key contributor to the economy, but in recent years the country has diversified into different sectors. In the 1990s oil represented 50% of foreign revenue, whereas manufactured goods now account for 90% of overall Tunisian exports.

The energy deficit we are currently experiencing is a consequence of falling local production and rising local consumption, a trend that has been ongoing since around 2001. A decrease in investment, the depletion of existing wells, and a general slowdown in delivering exploration and production permits has resulted in a reduction in output from 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2009 to 38,000 bpd in 2019. As a result, the current energy deficit stands at around 50%, which means that Tunisia imports 50% of its required resources. In order to address this, a largescale plan has been rolled out. The strategy has three pillars: reviving the hydrocarbons segment, developing renewable energy, and rationalising energy usage.

In terms of increasing activity in the hydrocarbons segment, the granting of exploration and production licences has resumed. This is an important step, and Tunisia is working with international oil companies to provide them with assistance in investing here. An advisory committee on hydrocarbons is committed to discussing issues before approving decisions by the Council of Ministers and Parliament. This has enabled us to speed up the pace of work and the granting of permits. As a result, for the first time since 2011, there has been an increase in the number of permits being issued. At least nine exploration licences will be issued in 2019, with six already approved by Parliament as of mid-2019, while none were approved in 2018. The Nawara gas development in the south of the country is also expected to boost production. The extension, which is expected to come on-line in 2019, should increase the current annual output of natural gas by 50%, equivalent to 1bn cu metres.

To what extent has Tunisia progressed in developing its renewable energy capacity?

FERIANI: By 2030 we aim to use renewables to cover 30% of the country’s energy needs, or 3500 MW. The launch of the Tozeur project in October 2018 is proof of our determination to achieve this aim. The Tozeur region is currently conducting a pilot programme to achieve energy self-sufficiency through the creation of a 70-MW solar energy park. To be rolled out in several other regions, the pilot in Tozeur will see 10 MW come on-line, followed by another 10 MW and then the remaining 50 MW by 2020-21.

Renewable energy is divided into three categories: concessions, authorisations and self-production. By 2023 Tunisia aims to establish 1000 MW worth of concessions, and 900 MW in authorisation and self-production, with the latter allowing Tunisia-based companies to locally cover their energy needs.

Tunisia has the potential to produce energy surpluses and should look to exporting it in the future. The country is also well positioned to serve both European and African markets. In fact, the construction of infrastructure to support this is already in progress.

How is Tunisia reducing its energy consumption?

FERIANI: Rationalising energy consumption is an important part of the national strategy to reduce the energy deficit and is being tackled by multiple government bodies. The National Agency for Energy Efficiency is the main organisation responsible for curbing energy waste and took charge of the national awareness campaign launched in April 2019. The government also carried out an energy audit on 350 municipalities. There are also plans to encourage efficient energy use for industrial activity, to be boosted by investment in infrastructure on a national level.