Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Tunisian Electricity Futures- a Comparison of the Implications of Renewable and Nuclear Power

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Tunisian Electricity Futures- a Comparison of the Implications of Renewable and Nuclear Power

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Arab Spring, unleashed by a young Tunisian who set himself aflame in the city of Sidi Bouzid in early 2011, has changed Tunisia. Although it seemed impossible only a year before, Tunisia's first free parliamentary elections were successfully held in the fall of 2011. Tunisians have high hopes and will attribute the success of their newly elected leaders on how they perform on solving two of the most persistent problems: reduction of unemployment - especially within the younger generations - and pervading inequality.

There are no simple solutions to this, but it is essential to restore stable economic growth. This will neither directly induce new jobs nor will it necessarily lead to a reduction of inequality. Without sustained growth, however, it is even more unlikely, that the problems that fundamentally triggered the revolution will be solved. There are many issues that need to be worked on to pave the way for long-term sustained growth, and most of them are not easy to solve.

One of the most fundamental issues is to assure that the country has sufficient, secure and affordable supply of electricity, and for this, Tunisia has more than one alternative to choose.

Electricity has become an extremely important production factor - its constant availability is thus of vital importance for the well-functioning of the Tunisian economy. The current Tunisian power system is almost entirely based on fossil fuels - mainly on gas which is increasingly imported. This could lock-in Tunisia into a perilous track of ever more dependence on expensive fossil-fuels. In order to relax this dependence and at the same time increase electricity supply, two alternative electricity options are prominently discussed: nuclear and renewable power. As it cannot afford to do everything, Tunisia stands at a crossroads: will it continue down a gas-powered path, will it engage in nuclear power development, or will it opt to make use of its large renewable resources?

This choice is an important one, with implications to be felt both immediately and in the longer term. The aim of the present article is to explore, discuss and compare the drawbacks and opportunities associated with both options.

OVERVIEW OF THE ELECTRICITY SITUATION

The main characteristics of the current Tunisian power system are its rapid growth and its rising dependence on gas. In this section, we describe the status-quo of the power sector, the drivers for the strong increase in electricity demand within the last decades as well as the business-as-usual outlook for the power system.

The Tunisian Power System: Status Quo

The total Tunisian power demand was 13.1 TWh in 2009, produced by a power plant fleet of 3.5 GW installed generation capacity (EIA, 2012; IEA, 2012). The Tunisian power mix is characterised by the abundance of fossil fuels, which is typical for North Africa. Today, the Tunisian electricity supply is almost entirely based on gas power (90%), flanked by oil power (9%) and minimal shares of wind (0.25%) and hydro power (0.25%), see Figure 1 (IEA, 2012).

Tunisia has electricity interconnections to its neighbours and its grid is synchronous with Algeria, Morocco and the European ENTSO-E area via AC cables across the Strait of Gibraltar. The Tunisian interconnection capacity consists of 4 medium- and high-voltage lines to Algeria with a total capacity of 420 MW (thermal limit), of which around 200 MW are commercially available (MED-EMIP, 2010).

Tunisia also has two 200 kV interconnections to Libya with somewhat uncertain capacity: the thermal limits are between 300 MW (AFESD, 2011) and 570 MW (Red Eléctrica, 2010), but these lines are not operational due to stability problems. Tunisia is almost self-sufficient in electricity. Net imports summed up to 41 GWh in 2009, with imports and exports of 122 and 81 GWh respectively - the yearly average load factor of the interconnectors to Algeria typically ranges between 5 and 9% (IEA, 2012; MED-EMIP, 2010). …

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