Tunesia’s Solar Potential

How did the Arab spring get started? With the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. He had been the victim of harassement by police for many years, could not bribe them that morning to protect his wheel barrow and after his scales had been confiscated without recourse he made the tragic decision to burn himself. The tragedy and injustice of his death would silence anyone, but what is even more amazing is the cause : poverty. A recent documentary on Tunesia showed little has changed. People of the country are not allowed or supported in attempts to improve their fate. There almost seems to be an active policy in that respect.

moroccan solar thermal power plant

For outsiders the reason for the riots, the poverty is the dollar policy of the US. While the Federal reserve prints money like there’s no tomorrow, countries like Tunisia can’t do the same, and get in trouble importing fuel. At the same time Tunesia gets loans from the IMF to fight the poverty. No matter how much money Tunesia gets and what it gives in return, it is its dependence on foreign currency and fuel that causes its problems. Can this dependency be removed? It doesn’t seem to be a matter of practical impossibility, only one that is undesirable in the eyes of the IMFs of this world and perhaps the corrupt government officials.

Tunesia has some Sunmining to do.. 

It seems easy to say that Tunis could use solar energy to increase it’s wealth, but it seems to be true. It has a vast area of desert with enormous amounts of sun, and using available solar technology it can become one green oasis. This can even be done with very little investment, because some solar technology don’t need money to be used, for instance using the sun to make irrigation pipes, pumps and desalination plants costs a fraction of what it would if one used imported steel equipment. Yet usually only investments that cause money to flow to outside companies will be green lit by f.i. the IMF. 

Making solar grade silicon with a solar furnace cuts cost of panels by on third

Tunis does not lack the one material needed for solar electricity : silicon. Tunis has photovoltaic power plants, but why doesn’t it have a solar panel factory? It would not have to stop making panels for the region. It could use sunlight to refine the silicon (as we written about before). Another important technology, solar thermal, depends on glass, which should be equally abundant in the sandy Tunisian deserts. Those energy sources can be used to desalinate water, pump it into the desert and provide food and a green environment for the people. It is clear there needs to be political will to develop the solar potential of Tunesia, and that doing it with foreign funds is destined to slow development down, but for those that want to protect the poor and prevent instability it may be a real solution.

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