Interview: Moncef Harrabi, Chairman, Société Tunisienne de l’Electricité et du Gaz (STEG)
What strategies are in place to meet the increasing demand for energy in Tunisia?
MONCEF HARRABI: During the summer of 2017 energy consumption in Tunisia reached an all-time high of 4025 MW. This was a result of the heatwave that hit the country in July, with temperatures reaching as high as 47°C. We therefore had to use all the electricity centres at maximum capacity to accommodate the surge in air conditioning use. Although we managed to get through the summer, we have to better prepare for an expected increase in electricity demand in the summer of 2018. The strategy to tackle this issue is threefold: secure energy exchange programmes with Europe, invest in energy storage units and educate consumers on how to conserve electricity.
In Europe high demand for energy takes place in winter, during which time Tunisia experiences overproduction of energy. Conversely, Europe experiences overproduction during the summer months, when Tunisia’s demand for electricity is at its highest. We are planning a 600 MW electricity exchange programme with Italy. Investment in storage units is also essential, in order to capture energy during periods of overproduction and supply it during the periods of high demand. Lastly, electricity wastage by consumers is a concern in Tunisia, as people often leave their windows or doors open while their air conditioning is on; so informing clients on how to use energy in a more prudent manner is essential.
How is the country seeking to increase energy efficiency, and what challenges does this present?
HARRABI: Optimising energy consumption is a priority for Tunisia’s energy security, as well as improving its impact on the environment. Our goal is to lower energy intensity by 2-3% per year, which means that by 2030 energy consumption will be 30% less than it is today. By reducing consumption we will be able to reduce the cost per kilowatt. The rationalisation of energy consumption is the country’s principal energy goal, but requires significant financing and capital investment in new technologies from both the private and public sectors.
However, there have already been some investments in this domain, such as a smart grid project set to begin in 2018, which will allow the optimisation of energy supply. We are starting with 370 smart metres for the city of Sfax, and this project will be expanded throughout Tunisia by 2025.
What is the ideal energy mix for the country, and what steps need to be taken to achieve this?
HARRABI: Tunisia needs to increase its energy production methods to achieve a more diversified mix that is not dependent on natural gas. Currently, 84% of the country’s energy capability comes from natural gas. Liquefied and bottled natural gas is expensive and overly subsidised by the state, so we are conducting studies to determine the potential of shale gas. We also expect renewable energy to play a stronger role in the country’s energy mix over the coming years. Our aim is to have 1000 MW of renewable energy by 2020, 1250 MW from 2020 to 2025 and 3500 MW by 2030. To achieve this we are currently working on a 100-MW wind power plant in Kebili as well as a 300-MW photovoltaic project spread out over five sites: Tataouine, Medenine, Kasserine, Kebili and Sidi Bouzid.
The private sector will carry out 70% of the solar energy projects in Tunisia and STEG will in turn buy the electricity it produces. With a combination of solar, wind and hydroelectric power we expect renewable energy to represent 12% of the energy mix by 2020 and 30% by 2030. However, since hydroelectric resources are limited in Tunisia, we see wind and, in particular, solar power as playing the largest role. Beyond renewables, we will also have the capacity to construct a nuclear power plant by 2030.
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