A Word with Silvia Pariente-David
Silvia Pariente-David, Senior advisor and consultant on energy and climate change issues, working with organizations such as the Center for Mediterranean Integration, World Bank, OCPPC and Tractebel-Engie.
In this interview with Senior advisor and consultant, Silvia Pariente-David, we get her insightful feedback about the Noor Ouarzazate project in Morocco. She also offers her expert knowledge in interconnection in the MENA region and what it means for CSP.
Interview by: Lila Neuberger
L.N. So, you worked on the Noor Ouarzazate project in Morocco. What can other countries learn from this project?
S.P. I think what made Noor Ouarzazate a success was that Morocco had a well-established target and a clearly articulated plan to achieve it.
The government created the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) to lead this project. Initially, many had doubts, but having a dedicated entity proved to be one of the factors that contributed to the success of Noor Ouarzazate. At the time, CSP was considered an expensive technology so the government passed a law that said that any extra cost due to this project would be covered by the government. Having MASEN insulated the incumbent utility from any cost burden, so it was instrumental to get commitment from all stakeholders and acceptability from the general public.
Things are changing fast, so what is needed to succeed changes all the time. The key success factors are: know what you want to do, plan for it, communicate and stay on track. The key is to be agile and flexible.
Also, concessional financing was instrumental in making Noor-Ouarzazate happen. Mobilization of concessional finance takes time and requires coordination of donors to get them to speak with one voice.
Figure 1: Arial view of the Noor-Ouarzazate project
L.N. I see that some of the work you do is about regional integration. Why is regional integration important for MENA countries and for CSP?
S.P. Regional integration is important for renewables in general, not just for CSP—and I would say even more for other intermittent renewables (VRE)—as it adds flexibility to power systems. Regional integration in MENA and between Europe and MENA has other benefits beyond flexibility such as security of supply, reliability, investment and operating cost savings and energy mix diversification.
CSP has flexibility built into it and it is more dispatchable so regional integration is less critical for CSP. However, interconnections allow CSP plants to reach a wider regional market rather than being limited to a national market. This means that it could make commercial sense to build larger and more efficient CSP plants because you can transmit the energy generated through the regional integration infrastructure. Indirectly, this could help leverage economies of scale and lower CSP costs further.
L.N. What role could CSP play should these countries become integrated either with each other or with countries on the Northern side of the Mediterranean?
S.P. I think CSP provides flexibility and for that reason it could replace some of the power provided by CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine). But I don’t think you can answer this question generally. Whether CSP makes sense depends on factors such as the energy mix, the availability of large scale storage capabilities (such as pumped hydro) and the energy resources found in the countries being interconnected.
L.N. Do you think Germany or France will open their renewable energy auctions to supply from North Africa?
S.P. European renewable support schemes are evolving towards market based principles, such as auctions, to reduce support costs and remove barriers for fair and efficient competition. This is required by the State Aid Guidelines to avoid market distortions as a result of support for renewables and to encourage more use of cooperation mechanisms.
The new Renewable Energy Directive requires a gradual opening of auctions to other EU countries, and I think it will happen faster than required. Once you open auctions to 27 countries, you may as well open them to everybody. It is a question of efficiency and effectiveness. Doing so increases competition and reduces costs, and as a result lowers prices for the consumer.
Figure 2: Italy-Tunisia electricity interconnection project
L.N. What are the interconnection projects happening in the Mediterranean region right now?
S.P. The Italy-Tunisia electricity interconnection is a project at the top of the list and it´s critical for both countries especially now with Italy’s surplus of power and Tunisia’s capacity shortage to meet fast growing electricity demand.
What is also being discussed right now is increasing the connection between Morocco and Europe to support increasing exchanges. Currently, power flows from Spain to Morocco and the line is at times saturated. A connection between Morocco and Portugal is also under consideration and feasibility studies are underway.
The interconnection between Libya and Tunisia could be useful but it is difficult. The interconnection exists but the systems are not stable. Since Egypt is going to be connected to Saudi Arabia, you can only imagine what having the connection could do. Potentially you could have the MENA region connected from Morocco all the way to the East once Egypt is connected to Saudi Arabia.
Detailed and sophisticated cost-benefit analysis must be done before deciding to build new interconnectors, as they are expensive. There are a number of interconnectors that have been built in the Mediterranean region but are aren’t used very much.
In general, interconnector projects are difficult to finance, as an interconnector results in price convergence between the two interconnected markets. Once the prices converge, you no longer have certainty on the flow direction. As soon as you equalize the prices, it becomes more of a balancing act.
L.N. How does significant integration of the grids of two countries affect the markets in these two countries?
S.P. We have already seen market coupling in Europe. So, what happens when you integrate your transmission systems? Power can flow between the countries, so the prices converge, and the consumer usually gets a cheaper price.
Market integration permits joint dispatch and optimization of resources across borders, which leads to significant cost savings, and better reliability, as well as a number of other benefits.
CSP is a piece of the story of providing low carbon flexibility. Other renewables are less flexible and, whilst that is changing, CSP remains one of the most flexible renewable technologies.