Libya unveils project to supply solar power to Europe

Abu Dhabi’s Al Maskari Holding is behind a US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) project to build an integrated "energy hub" in Libya and to develop an undersea cable for exporting solar energy to Europe.

The project will include concentrated solar energy and conventional electricity generation from fuels such as natural gas, and a high-voltage undersea transmission line from Libya to southern Italy.

An agreement for the project was signed in Tripoli on December 12, said Sirajeldean Elbadri, an official with the chairman’s office of the Libyan general board of privatisation and investment.

"Libya is a source for clean energy. We can export energy to all of Europe. When Russia does not send gas, we hope we can send this energy to Europe by having cables under the sea from the north of Libya to the south of Europe," Jamal Ellamushe, the Libyan minister of privatisation and investment, told an investment forum in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

Sheikha Aisha al Maskari, the chairwoman of the family-owned Al Maskari Holding, said the group was interested in investing in all sectors of Libya’s energy industry, including concentrating solar power. Al Maskari’s involvement in renewable-energy development includes a 20-year project with the Norwegian government, she said.

The company intends to invest in the energy hub venture in Libya, which is planned to include a large solar element, under the government’s privatisation programme, Dr al Maskari said on the sidelines of the meeting in the capital. She declined to give further details.

"We are concentrating on the solar market in Libya. They have the best solar resources in the world," Dr al Maskari continued.

"We would also like to be partners in industry in Libya," she said. "There is a partnership between the public and private sectors there. We have seen the support in Libya, where we have had a factory for 20 years.

"The surprise for me when we visited Libya was the hospitality and the humbleness of the people," she said of her first visit to the country.

After 10 years working with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in various aspects of petroleum development and management, Dr al Maskari, a geophysicist by training, in 1989 assumed the chair of her family’s company Tricon Energy Operations. She is currently chairwoman of the UAE parent company Tricon Group and the affiliated Al Maskari Holding. The latter group’s operations include oil and gas services, power generation, desalination and water treatment, and environmental consulting.

Libya wants to triple its power generation capacity within a decade to support what it hopes will be a flood of foreign investment aimed at expanding and diversifying an economy that is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports.

The government’s plan includes increasing installed electrical generation capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2020 from about 6.2 GW at present. As well as supplying the domestic market, Libya is aiming to export power to Europe.

Tripoli has also set a target of supplying 10 per cent of its energy consumption from renewable sources, especially solar thermal and wind energy.

That is more ambitious than the UAE’s 7 per cent renewable-energy commitment over the same period, but lower than targets set by some Mediterranean Arab neighbours such as Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon.

"The Great Jamahiriya [Libya’s parliament] assigns special interest in the energy sector, acquiring knowledge, as well as increasing the energy efficiency by utilising cutting-edge technology and enhancing rationalisation of energy," the Libyan privatisation and investment board stated in an investment presentation yesterday in Abu Dhabi.

"Libya seeks to significantly contribute to regional and global programmes in the energy sector, leveraging its well-positioned geographic location [between the] European and African continents."

In addition, Tripoli would support environmental protection projects, the presentation indicated.

Libya produces most of its electricity by burning oil. This summer, energy officials said the government had launched strategic initiatives aimed at encouraging gas exploration and development, with a view to using gas for most power generation while exporting more oil. However, in the absence of large new gas discoveries, that could leave Libya without surplus gas to continue its current exports of the fuel, mainly by pipeline to Europe.

Tripoli’s new renewable energy strategy may therefore be partly driven by fears that its gas development drive may fail.

On Thursday, Royal Dutch Shell said it was appraising a gas discovery on its concession in Libya’s Sirte basin and would continue drilling.

Tamsin Carlisle,