6 Ways Tunisia Can Become a Green Energy Leader

by Hassine Labaied, February 29, 2012

Since the 70’s, Tunisia has managed increasing unemployment pressures by promoting low value-added manufacturing sectors such as textiles and auto wires. However, the job opportunities these industries created have been limited to low-qualified workforce, a fact that has frustrated highly educated job seekers and exacerbated the current dramatic unemployment rate.

Tunisia’s first attempt to reverse this situation was to develop the IT business over the last decade in hopes of becoming the Bangalore of North Africa. However, results were below expectations; we actually ended up attracting call centers looking for cheap labor rather than reputed software developers who could help unleash “Made-in-Tunisia” innovation potential.

While the new government needs to re-adjust its strategy to boost nascent Tunisian IT businesses, it also ought to take advantage of this clean slate to promote new and emerging industries that could reshape the global economy over the next decades. Renewable energy must be at the top of the list. 

The world is now shifting to renewable energy in order to generate sustainable and carbon-free energy. Mounting nuclear threats in Japan coupled with increasing oil prices (above $100/barrel), as well as the realities of climate change are pushing several governments to revise their energy policies and opt for green energy.

According to the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), the projected global investments of US$ 630billon in renewable energy sector would translate into at least 20 million jobs by 2030. In Europe, the green energy sector could potentially create 2.8 million new jobs and add 1.1% to GDP growth if the EU's 2020 renewable target of 20% is met.

Tunisia should not miss this unique opportunity to follow suit. It needs to swiftly position itself towards encouraging this emerging industry and becoming an important services provider. To do so, several key steps must be taken:

  1. Establish new engineering schools, universities, and master’s programs that specialize in renewable energies (mainly solar, wind, wave and biomass). Hundreds of thousands of well-educated staff will be required to fill current and future vacancies in the industry worldwide; Tunisia can work to provide workforce.

  2. Aim to capture 1% of the projected investment Europe will make in green industries, by encouraging outsourcing to Tunisia. This could enable the creation of 30,000 new highly-qualified positions.

  3. Set up a specialized cluster (for instance, a green energy park) that provides various incentives as well as adequate infrastructures to attract leading European and global companies. The Spanish model could be useful to emulate; Spain’s commitment to renewable energy, insisting that it comprises 35% of electricity generation, has reduced the price of electricity production by US$6.5 billion, contributed US$11.5 billion to the national GDP, and was worth US$4.1 billion in exports in 2009.

  4. Get involved in Desertec, a €400 billion project that aims to promote the generation of electricity in the Sahara desert using solar power parks and wind farms, for transmission to Europe. Despite Tunisia’s relatively limited solar and wind resources, it could play an instrumental role in bringing North Africa further into the project, leveraging the recently approved trans-Mediterranean cable project between Tunisia and Italy. Nur Energie has already begun this process with the TuNur project.
     
  5. Once global players begin allocating green investment in Tunisia, in the form of wind or solar farms, plants, and R&D labs, Tunisia should continue to help local entrepreneurs start complementary businesses, grasping fresh opportunities all along the value chain. Tunisia should move quickly to become an early mover in the space and a net exporter of green energy-related goods and services.
     
  6. Invest in Research & Development in renewable energy. Many public and private agencies and funds from all over the world are providing financial supports to encourage green R&D, as this has been proven to be a high yield business. Tunisia should start in on this as soon as possible, laying the foundation for a solid and effective bridge between engineering universities and the private sector.

The world is irreversibly turning towards green energy, and Tunisia needs a proactive approach to ensure an early integration with this process. We are at a crucial crossroad and we need to act swiftly to put our “green” Tunisia on the world’s green map.

[photo from Nur Energie's Tunisia Solar Power Export Project Report].

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Hassine is co-founder of Saphon Energy, an emerging cleantech company focused on developing an innovative bladeless wind technology invented by his partner Anis Aouini. After 12 years with major financial institutions, Hassine decided to put an end to his banking career and embark with Anis on a challenging entrepreneurial journey. Previously, Hassine was Director at Citibank Dubai, in charge of managing the local corporate team. He holds an executive MBA from London Business School. You can find him on LinkedIn or Facebook.

 
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