Interview with Noureddine Boutarfa, CEO of Sonelgaz
Renewables: “To achieve our aims, we need to start today”
By Tamás Kugyela | Tuesday 03 January 2012
The Algerian energy supplier Sonelgaz and the international consortium Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) signed a memorandum of understanding, on 9 December 2011 in Brussels, on cooperation in harnessing renewable energy in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Dii plans to create a market for renewable energy from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) on an industrial scale by 2050. Sonelgaz, a state-owned group of 36 companies, is mostly active in the field of research, engineering, manufacturing, maintenance and creation of industrial plants. Sonelgaz CEO Noureddine Boutarfa talked toEuropolitics
about the growth and prospects of this project.
What does your company commit to with this memorandum?
This memorandum provides a structure for future relations with the Desertec Industrial Initiative. It establishes the areas of cooperation, how we will work together to develop the technology and promote renewable energy in Algeria. The idea is to export this energy but also to find the best solutions for building local industries, in other words how to develop the industry, and generate and distribute this renewable energy. We also have to identify the technologies best suited to the Algerian context. We do not rule out examining the investments of tomorrow, and in this sector, tomorrow means 30 or 50 years. So we need to move forward by stages. The first step is this memorandum, which answers the question of what we can do right away. We can start by settling the balance sheet problem: the savings for gas plants. The gas saved becomes available for trade and the North can recover it. This is the oft-cited concept of ‘solar gas’.
When do you plan to build the first solar fields?
We have to be pragmatic. The first plants will be mixed - 25% solar and 75% gas - and will not have storage capacity. The first plants with storage will be built in 2016. We also will embark on a programme to build a photovoltaic panel manufacturing plant. This will become a reality from 2014. Capacity of 100 MW per year will be installed in the South, where there are no interconnections and where a photovoltaic plant is needed to meet high demand. Where interconnections exist, on the North-South network, major power plants interconnected to transport networks will be built towards 2015-2016. We are also counting on the Desertec Industrial Initiative to help us further develop this concept. The question of exporting is also very complex, not just in technical terms, but also in its economic, legal, regulatory and social aspects. There needs to be a demonstration of what is possible.
Desertec’s aim is to create a free market for energy products. How will your company’s position affect it?
All the Maghreb countries have energy resources: fossil and certainly solar. A market for the entire region needs to be created. Maybe, once networks have been built, the South will also be able to draw energy from the North. There are so many options to be studied: the transport problem can only be solved together with our Spanish and Italian partners. The different countries and actors have their own approaches. So the question is how to build and regulate this market for renewable energy.
Will you draw advantages from being among the actors who build this market?
To achieve our aims, we need to start today, because in ten years’ time it will already be too late. I think that renewable energy cannot be ignored in tomorrow’s energy mix. If we don’t act today, no energy source will be capable of meeting future demand. Climate problems will also necessarily have an influence on risks. In the longer term, the price of nuclear energy will rise and renewables will become real alternatives, with their advantages and disadvantages. So we have a good programme ahead and I hope that we will be able to develop all these concepts with Desertec Industrial Initiative.
Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) is one of the EU’s most ambitious cooperation projects in the area of renewable energy, and in particular solar energy. Its current objective is to create the technological, regulatory and economic conditions conducive to building a sustainable renewable energy market through solar and wind power sources in the Middle East and North Africa. The final objective of harnessing the energy potential of deserts is ambitious: to produce enough energy to meet around 15% of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050, and to cover a large share of the energy needs of the producer countries. Dii has the objective of generating several hundred GWs of solar energy by 2050.