Tunis/Tunisia — Less than 10 years ago, Tunisia reached the deadline for achieving one of the objectives of the Tunisian solar plan, namely the production of 3815 megawatts (MW) of electricity, from renewable energy and thus increase the share of these energies in the overall production to 30% in 2030.
But since the adoption of this plan in 2015, the installed energy capacity has not exceeded until 2019, the 3%, or less than 400 (MW), these are not results that the country can be proud of, despite all the measures and support programs funded by international donors and technical cooperation agencies.
Tunisia, whose sunshine days are about 75% per year, still aspires to exploit its capacities and potentialities in terms of solar radiation, through the implementation of this plan, the first version of which dates back to 2009 (updated since), as well as through the establishment of an appropriate legal and regulatory framework.
Insufficient regulatory framework
Tunisia has relatively succeeded in establishing a regulatory framework favourable to the development of renewable energy. It has also established the modes of acquisition and sale of renewable energies through the Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company (STEG), which organises and oversees the electricity distribution network in the country.
In this regard, the energy authorities in Tunisia have set the minimum capacity of sale of electricity produced from renewable energy subscribed to STEG, to 2 MW, in accordance with the ministerial decree published on May 15, 2020, in the JORT.
Bureaucracy stifles ambitions
International recognition of Tunisia's efforts to develop the legal framework and policies for energy management and efficiency does not hide the obstacles faced by the owners of photovoltaic equipment installation companies and other companies operating in the field of renewable energy in Tunisia.
In statements to TAP, representatives of these companies, who requested anonymity for fear of seeing their projects hindered by the administration, said that "the bureaucracy and disengagement of the structures responsible for facilitating the task of companies operating in the field of renewable energy, including solar energy, have become unbearable.
The Chambre Syndicale du Photovoltaïque had called on National Agency for Energy Management (ANME) to intervene to remove the documents hindering the payment of premiums to companies, knowing that for some companies, the payment of these premiums has been delayed for months under the pretext of incomplete files.
Among these documents, those relating to the technical approval and start-up of equipment that the Chamber considers contradictory with the application for connection to STEG.
The administration's lack of communication with the sector's actors also bothers some company directors that TAP's journalist met.
ANME had reduced the premium for equipment with an installed capacity equal to or less than 1.5 kW to 500 dinars/kW installed, instead of 1200 dinars, explaining this reduction by its desire to rationalise the use of premiums granted by the Energy Transition Fund (FTE).
This measure has aroused the anger of the owners of companies installing photovoltaic equipment, for whom the category targeted by this reduction (installed capacity equal to or less than 1.5 kW) is none other than the category most concerned; which belongs to the middle-income class. The reduction of the subsidy will not encourage citizens to use photovoltaic energy and will, in turn, impact the activity and income of companies, according to these operators.
This decision allows companies and corporations, defined by law, to produce electricity from renewable energy for self-consumption (2015) and to sell part of their production to large consumers.
The legal framework allows, by virtue of a government decree of 25 February 2020, the creation of companies for the self-production of electricity from renewable energies and the sale of the production to large consumers. These companies benefit from the right to transport electricity via the national grid, in compliance with the conditions for granting authorisations, including those relating to the transport of electricity and the sale of surplus production to STEG.
Recommendations of the International Renewable Energy Agency
In its report published in early June 2021, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) revealed the existence of obstacles and barriers to the development of renewable energy use in Tunisia.
It considered that institutional responsibilities overlap and that renewable energy projects in the country are subject to the intervention of many ministries and public institutions, adding that "the procedures for obtaining the required authorisations are complex and time-consuming, which requires clarifying the roles of the various public institutions and examining the possibility of creating a platform on the Internet and developing a procedure manual.
Renewable energy project developers suffer during all stages of the implementation of their renewable energy projects from the numerous administrative authorisations that have to be obtained from each institution separately, and from the procedures necessary to obtain such authorisations.
Similarly, the acquisition and installation of networked transmission infrastructure by STEG is subject to public procurement. The length of the procedures relating to these contracts leads to a time lag between the completion date of a power plant producing renewable energy and the date of connection to the network to inject the electricity produced.
In order to ensure the efficiency of the main public institutions involved in the development of renewable energy, the report recommended building local capacity by mobilising the necessary skilled human resources and improving the investment environment for renewable energy through the establishment of an independent regulator to oversee the electricity sector, "which can provide an environment of transparency and competitiveness for renewable energy producers and developers".
The report also stressed the need to activate the Energy Transition Fund, which is the main instrument for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy activities in Tunisia.
"In order for the Fund to effectively support renewable energy in the country, the first step is to mobilise the necessary funds from the public and private sectors. Incentives, loans and credit lines should be made available by international financial institutions for this purpose.
IRENA proposed in the report, produced in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy and ANME, to set up a framework for renewable energy planning. It called for the installation of about 4 gigawatts (GW) of variable renewable energy (VRE) power (solar and wind) and their addition to the grid.
According to the same report, the country will therefore need a comprehensive, long-term planning methodology, including a realistic timetable, setting out the capacity increases in the national electricity system beyond 2023. Renewable energy development policy should be based on sound long-term planning for the energy and electricity sector and include the development of grid infrastructure to promote complementarity between different energies and their integration into the network.