Algeria unveils renewable energy strategy

The Algerian government is undertaking an aggressive new renewable energy development plan. Over the next 20 years, Algeria hopes to produce as much electricity from renewable sources as it currently produces from its natural gas power plants.

"In a few weeks, we shall present a new renewable energy development plan to the government. This is an extremely ambitious solar power, wind energy and geothermal energy plan," Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi announced on December 6th in Algiers. "It’s a huge programme and a huge challenge. The government will work alongside and assist operators in its implementation."

The main purpose of this new policy is to prepare the country for the post-petrol era. While Algeria remains a significant producer of hydrocarbons, which are currently the main source of foreign income for the country, its internal demand is constantly growing. Co-operation agreements for alternative energy have already been signed with a number of countries, including France, the United States, Brazil, Russia, China and Germany.

Another aspect covered by the new plan is safeguarding Algeria’s position as a European energy supplier and future provider of "clean" energy. With protection of the environment becoming an increasingly important political issue and with the inexorable rise in oil prices, there are many incentives to develop policies which encourage the use of alternative sources of energy.

It was in line with this trend that Algeria started the construction in 2007 of a hybrid power station using both concentrating solar power and natural gas to produce 180 megawatts of electricity, alongside plans for a concentrated solar energy plant in the Sahara with a capacity of 150 megawatts. In the near future, Algeria is expected to manufacture its own gas turbines and it also hopes to design and build power stations using its own national companies.

"It’s a necessity, and even though this strategy may have come a little late, we can catch up," Sundous Energy head Amina Benhamou said to Magharebia. She highlighted the red tape which has tied up the existing programme to develop renewable energies. "We’re only starting as we reach the end of the five-year period over which it was supposed to be completed."

Speaking as the head of a business, she pointed out that there was considerable demand for solar energy, but the prohibitive costs associated with this solution were putting people off.

"The State must step in with some assistance for the market to develop. We have to take the long view. Morocco and Tunisia are already well ahead of us in this area, and yet Algeria has the greatest solar potential in the region, and more resources," Benhamou said.

She also pointed out the essential nature of human resources. "We cannot move forwards unless we train people. You need to have a certain culture in this area. There’s a lack of skills and qualified manpower in the field, and all that’s needed is a small engineering training module lasting a few hours to change things."

"It must also be possible to feed the electricity produced from this alternative energy into the national distribution network. The law exists but is not being applied. This is no way to encourage initiatives. But fundamentally, I’m still optimistic," Benhamou concluded, citing the example of the promise from the environment and development ministry to build the Boughzoul "eco-town".

The issue of renewable energy was on the agenda of the meeting by the Council of Ministers on December 5th, where they studied a communication relating to the creation of the Algerian Institute of Renewable Energy under the presidential directives ordering the promotion of these new power sources. These directives have already resulted in the promulgation of the law on energy control in 1999 and the law on renewable energies in 2004.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gave the government the task of coming up with measures to encourage investment and capitalise on the results of scientific research, particularly in renewable energies, to benefit the economy. He also ordered the government to bring a credible national plan to develop new and renewable energies before the Council of Ministers in 2011.

On an official visit to Germany on December 8th, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to set up a joint economic commission to develop the Desertec project.

This project, to be steered by German companies, is aimed at creating a vast network of wind energy and solar power farms in North Africa and the Middle East over the next forty years, which should provide 15% of Europe’s power needs.

By Mohand Ouali, Magharebia,