A particular strength of PROSOL is that it has been developed after a comprehensive consultation process, which involved several stakeholders among public institutions, banks, local utilities, industry associations, NGOs, indivuals, etc. The stakeholder consultation has helped design the financial support mechanism in a much more effective way thus strengthening the mainstreaming of the solar thermal technology.
Tunisia has en enormous solar potential, with very high irradiation rates. According to the EU JRC data, the country benefits a minimum of 1800 to a maximum of 2200 kWh/m2 per year. The National Agency for Energy Management (ANME) estimates that solar thermal panels could satisfy approximately 70-80% of sanitary hot water needs in the residential sector. Despite this favourable condition, Tunisia makes an extensive use of fossil fuels, which covered 98.3% of total electricity production in 2005. Primary energy demand has more than doubled over the last 20 years, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) represent the largest share. Hot water demand is over 30 million m3 per year, and is projected to increase up to 70 millions m3 by 2010. Hot water is used mainly for domestic purposes. So far the market is dominated by LPG-fired boilers, which constitute over 78% of the stock. LPG is entirely imported. In 2004 imports reached 364 ktoe (IEA, 2007).Given this picture, it becomes evident that solar hot water systems represent an effective and efficient solution to satisfy the growing energy needs in a sustainable way. The PROSOL project is designed in order to address all dimensions of sustainability.As far as the economic dimension is concerned, the solar thermal technology exploits a free and abundant energy source in Tunisia, thus avoiding the use of LPG, natural gas, electricity, and oil. This aspect is of particular relevance, since 2001 the net energy balance of Tunisia has been showing negative values. In 2004, net imports amounted to almost 2000 ktoe (IEA, 2007). If the energy demand continues to grow at current rates, an accurate energy management and the exploitation of renewable energy sources will be necessary to avoid a relevant deficit in the balance of payments. On the contrary, the PROSOL project is expected to favour the commercialisation of over 200,000 m2 of solar water heaters between 2005 and 2011. This can be translated into an annual saving of over 10,000 toe, and an avoided expense of 10 million Tunisian dinars (almost 8 million USD) the import of LPG. The latter is currently subsidised by the Tunisian government in a measure corresponding to 50% of its real price. Therefore, thanks to PROSOL the Tunisian government could save approximately 5 million dinars every year. This budget could be used to provide further stimulus to the solar thermal industry, in order to reach a full competitiveness against conventional products. The PROSOL project aims at achieving this goal, by creating new business opportunities for local manufacturers, importers, salers and installers. Besides being relevant economic issues, the above-mentioned aspects incorporate important social advantages in terms of knowledge creation, job increase, market competitiveness, and reduced financial deficit. According to the National Statistics Institute, the unemployment rate in Tunisia in 2004 was 14%, well above the 9% registered in the EU25 in the same year, or the 5.5% in USA. By promoting a renewable technology in the country, the project helps the development of new business thus creating new job opportunities in many different fields. To date 9 suppliers and over 100 installers are operating in Tunisia. It is expected that over 300 new jobs will be created thanks to the project.In addition, the National Agency for Energy Management estimates that the project has the potential to leverage 1 million m2 solar captors up to 2016, thanks to the establishment of a CDM facility and the selling of CERs on the market. This would imply the entering in the market of about 10 new subjects among manufacturers and importers, which will give new impetus to the solar industry in Tunisia. Technology transfer will increase, too, as well as new partnerships between Tunisian and foreign companies, with the aim to develop new and better performing products. This would allow Tunisia to gain market quotas in the international environment.At individual level, customers may benefit a reliable energy technology exploiting an abundant and renewable source. The financing formula designed within PROSOL allows customers to pay the investment on a pro rata basis, via the bi-monthly electricity bills. The indirect loan, granted to customers through their technology suppliers, is paid back in 5 years, thus making solar water heaters an accessible equipment in Tunisian households.Finally, the project incorporates important ecological aspects. Each solar water heating unit avoids the use of approximately 1.38 toe of non-renewable energy over its life cycle, and the emission of 7.5 tonnes of CO2, which represents the main greenhouse gas. If the 255,000 m2 target until 2010 is met, 64,000 tonnes of CO2 will be avoided every year, and almost 12,000 toe of non renewable energy will be saved. If we consider also the 2016 projection of one million m2, to be reached through the development of a carbon finance market, then the environmental savings will be 252,000 tons of CO2 and 46,000 toe per year, respectively.In addition, other environmental advantages derive the substitution of centralised fossil fuel fired plants with solar energy, like reduced local pollution, minimised visual impacts, transports, infrastructures, noise and odours.Therefore the project clearly incorporates sustainability characteristics, and fully aims at mainstreaming clean energy technologies.
Sustainability aspects are strictly interrelated to the mainstreaming of clean energy, as addressed above. Therefore here a brief synthesis of the main advantages is reported.Ecological advantages: the project contributes to avoiding fossil energy sources. In terms of global warming potential, the solar water heaters installed so far will avoid over 200,000 tonnes of CO2 and the use of approximately 40,000 toe, over their entire life cycle. If the target of 255,000 panels is met, almost one million tonnes of CO2 and 180 ktoe will be avoided over the life cycle of the solar equipments. Finally, thanks to the creation of a CDM market, additional ecological benefits are being created, summing up to almost 4 million tonnes of CO2 and 690 ktoe in the cumulated period 2005-16.Social advantages: the project has the potential to generate new employment opportunities, thus improving life standards. The number of direct employees could reach 1,000-1,300 units if the carbon finance market is put in place. This would imply the net creation of over 600 jobs in various business sectors: manufacturing units, installation and maintenance, transports, financing, communication and advertisements, etc.The economic impact of the project is mainly due to the net energy savings, which reduce the imports and ameliorate the balance of payments. Approximately, 40 million dinars will be saved thanks to the surface installed so far. The economic benefits could grow up to 600 million dinars over the entire life cycle of solar equipments, if the 1 million projection by 2016 is respected.