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 to Europolitics 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...

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