Algeria is no longer planning to provide solar power generated in the Sahara Desert to southern Europe, despite committing to the now collapsed Desertec initiative. It had set a target of 10,000MW of renewables capacity for export.

However, there are 343MW-worth of photovoltaic (PV) solar projects under way across the country.

State-owned Electricity and Renewable Energy Company (SKTM) awarded the main contracts to a Chinese consortium of Yingli Solar, Sinohydro and Hydrochina, developing 233MW in December 2013. German BElectric was awarded 85MW of projects on the western hauts plateaux (mountain ranges).

“Despite being a major gas exporter, Algeria is also investing in renewables,” says Vahid Fotuhi, president of the Middle East Solar Industry Association. “Today, there are more solar panels being installed in Algeria than anywhere else in the Middle East and North Africa [Mena] region.”

This constitutes one of the largest solar programmes under execution in the region. The projects are:

Project Region Capacity
Setif, Borg Bouarreridj, Batna, Mila and Souk Ahras Hauts plateaux east 90MW
Saida, Naama, El-Bayadh and Sisi Bel Abbes Hauts plateaux west Four projects totalling 85MW
Msila Djelfa, Laghouat and Ouargla Hauts plateaux central 90MW
In Salah, Adrar and Timimoun Sahara central Seven projects totalling 53 MW
Tindouf Sahara west 9MW
Djanet Sahara southeast 3MW

Algeria had a renewables capacity of 293 MW in 2012, mainly consisting of hydroelectric dams. Government agencies are still optimistic about meeting the ambitious 2030 target to install 12,000MW of renewable capacity, or 30-40 per cent of total output, for local consumption.

Once this phase of the programme is complete, another round of projects is foreseen to keep momentum towards the target.

The pioneering Hassi R’mel integrated solar combined-cycle (ISCC) power plant, developed by an Algerian-Spanish consortium, went online in July 2011. A similar scheme in Naama has shown no signs off activity since 2012.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) underwent massive changes in October, as the majority of shareholders, including Germany’s Siemens and Bosch, pulled out. It was also the target of much criticism in partner countries.

It has abandoned its complex and ambitious plans to foster cross-Mediterranean power grids, and become a smaller service company for its remaining shareholders, Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power, Germany’s RWE, and FGCC.

“Dii did mapping and studies in the region, which were the base for the current renewables programmes,” says a representative of the organisation. “We consider that a success as the region started with nothing and now has 3GW of renewable capacity, with 35GW planned for 2020.”

The countries involved are now focused on meeting their own rising demand for power, as European demand has weakened. “Algeria has lucrative gas exports,” says Fotuhi. “Renewables will satisfy the local market and reduce its domestic consumption of gas, so it will be able to export more. It makes perfect economic sense.”

For Algiers, exporting renewable power is “conditional on the existence of a long-term guarantee of purchase, trustworthy partners and external financing”, said Baya Belarbi, chief of project engineering at the local SKTM, speaking to the Algerian Press Service. All these have disappeared with the collapse of Desertec’s vision, which proved too difficult to put into practice.