Fethi Hanchi, general manager of Tunisia’s National Agency for Energy Management, says his country’s decades of experience bringing solar power to homes should help it achieve a goal of exporting Tunisian solar power to Europe.
The agency Hanchi leads, known as ANME, is charged with designing and putting in place policies and practices that help Tunisia achieve its energy-management goals. Those include promoting the rational use of energy, developing renewable energies, and guiding the transition to more environmentally friendly energy sources.
In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, Hanchi discussed his country’s progress toward those goals, the challenges it must overcome, and what it hopes to gain from participation in the COP27 climate summit in Egypt next month.
Tunisia is a pioneer in the transition to solar energy in homes and businesses, he said. The country had been providing consumers with solar-powered water heaters under an incentive programme called PROSOL since 2004.
Tunisia’s Energy Transition Fund, part of the Ministry of Trade, used an investment grant to start the programme, and Tunisia’s electric and gas company originally allowed consumers to pay at below the going interest rate over five years to cover the cost of installing the units.
Reducing Reliance on Fossil Fuels
PROSOL is also promoting projects to increase Tunisia’s use of solar energy to generate electricity and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.
“We hope to connect the Tunisian energy grid with the electricity networks of various European countries to export solar energy from Tunisia to Europe.”Fethi Hanchi, general manager of Tunisia’s National Agency for Energy Management
Hanchi is looking forward to Tunisia exporting more energy abroad. He says a 2015 law supporting the transition to renewable energy allows the export of energy to foreign countries, but there is a lack of connection to European countries.
His ambition is to export Tunisia’s solar energy. “We hope to connect the Tunisian energy grid with the electricity networks of various European countries to export solar energy from Tunisia to Europe.”
National campaigns have already greatly reduced the country’s reliance on conventional energy, Hanchi said.
Tunisia consumes less than 70,000 tons of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) while producing 140 megawatts of solar energy in 50,000 homes. This represents only a small percentage of electricity consumption across the country, he said, but officials hope the figure will increase to 500 megawatts by 2025.
To achieve that, however, the country will have to overcome various difficulties, most of them financial. Tunisia is pursuing partnerships with other Mediterranean countries on large-scale projects to help attract the necessary funding, Hanchi said.
“Tunisia, with its neighbouring solar belt countries, many of them more suited to utilising solar energy, are hoping to unite to obtain funding for projects,” he said.
Hanchi recently visited Egypt to discuss the issue. “We met a number of officials from Egyptian companies and agreed to exchange experiences and benefit from the Tunisian experience. We saw great interest in developing this cooperation.”
Growth of an Industry, and Jobs
Hanchi said that when Tunisia’s experiment with solar water heaters started in 2004, the country had only four companies specialising in the manufacture of solar panels. Today, there are more than 500, and the solar heating project has expanded from 7,000 square metres to one million square metres. Tunisia now exports more than 90 percent of its local production of solar heaters to African and European countries.
“We met a number of officials from Egyptian companies and agreed to exchange experiences and benefit from the Tunisian experience. We saw great interest in developing this cooperation.”Fethi Hanchi
“Tunisia produces 200,000 solar heaters annually, of which only 20,000 go to the local market, while 180,000 heaters are exported,” Hanchi said. He added that Tunisian industry hoped to produce 300,000 heaters a year by the end of 2025.
Last year, Tunisia signed a $400 million renewable energy support deal with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for producing solar panels, to assist in the transition to renewable energy, he said.
He points out that the benefits of the transition to solar energy are not limited to the environment, but also provides employment. Some 6,000 jobs have been created by Tunisian projects, which are now making a profit as well as reducing consumption of conventional energy, he said.
Participation in COP27
Hanchi believes Tunisia’s participation in COP27 will be a chance to show how Tunisian projects work and to find new donors.
“We have a lot of experience and the industrial and service capabilities to implement many projects,” he said. The country’s National Agency for Energy Management has already cooperated with several international partners, including the United Nations Development Programme, the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (an intergovernmental organization that promotes renewable energy in the Arab region), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), among others.
Tunisian officials have estimated that to meet the country’s climate goals for 2030 they will need to raise $19 billion from donors.
Hanchi told Al-Fanar Media that Tunisia needed $12 billion to support renewable energy through solar energy projects and $7 billion to support the agricultural sector and other projects related to the green economy.
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Read more about Egypt’s preparations to host the United Nations’ COP27 climate-change conference in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on this topic.