LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A solar power production scheme stretching across North Africa and into the Middle East is being expanded to generate 1.12 gigawatts of energy for the region, making it the most ambitious programme of its kind, the African Development Bank has said.
Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia are to receive $660 million from the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), managed by multilateral development banks, to support their initiative. They are expected to raise an additional $5 billion from other donors and private financing.
But the impact of the Arab Spring revolutions over the past two and a half years has cut the number of commercial-scale power plants planned under the scheme to five, from between 10 and 12 when it was first endorsed by the CIF's Clean Technology Fund in 2009.
There will now be two concentrated solar power plants in Morocco, one in Tunisia, one in Egypt and one in Jordan. The generation capacity of the scheme has nonetheless grown in scale, from 895 megawatts (MW) of power to 1,120 MW.
Most of the extra capacity is due to be added in Morocco, where the 160 MW Ouarzazate I plant is due to start operating in 2015. The country - which currently imports around 95 percent of its energy needs - will build a second plant at Ouarzazate with 300 MW of capacity, for which it has been allocated $218 million by the World Bank.
“We are looking forward to seeing more involvement by this kind of financing in the coming years, and hope it will help continue the dynamism of the solar power sector and its competitiveness with wind and other energy sources, including fossil fuels,” Mustapha Bakkoury, president of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), told the CIF governing body.
TUNISIA CUTS BACK
Mafalda Duarte, African Development Bank coordinator for the CIF programme, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that Tunisia has decided to abandon most of its projects under the revised scheme, due to its economic situation and the fact that the government needs to prioritise other spending.
“The changes suggested by the countries in the plan make it a more viable and flexible plan which takes into account the realities each of these countries face,” Duarte said ina statement. “We can all look to this revised plan as both a signal of hope for the forward economic and social movement in the region built on renewable energy, and a more realistic blueprint for the evolution of renewables as a potent engine of power globally.”
The amount of money requested from the Clean Technology Fund by the countries has reduced from an initial $750 million to $660 million.
Algeria and Libya - together with the other countries building solar plants - will benefit from the plan's $10 million technical assistance component, Duarte added. This will establish a platform for knowledge exchange and increase private-sector involvement and regional integration.
Concentrated solar power systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large amount of solar thermal energy onto a small area, with the resulting heat used to generate electricity.
Africa in total had 147 gigawatts (GW) of power generation capacity as of January 2011, including 27.8 GW of renewable energy capacity, with hydropower accounting for 93 percent of this renewables capacity, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
While installed solar capacity in Africa is still low, it is widely regarded as having large potential. But a major project to export solar and other renewable power from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe has run into trouble, with key industrial partners pulling out last year.
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