Tunisia opens its first PV module factory

In an interview, Noomen Bargaoui, CEO of NR-Sol, tells pv magazine that the company will manufacture both mono- and poly-crystalline photovoltaic modules at its new 1,200 square foot facility, located in Ennadhour, Tunisia. The manufacturing equipment will be supplied by Italy’s P.Energy, and a total of 36 new jobs have been created. Overall, each of the three manufacturing shifts will see 12 employees working.

The 200 to 250 Watt modules will be comprised of 60 cells: the monocrystalline cells will come from Bosch, while Motech will supply the polycrystalline cells. On average, Bargaoui says that the modules will cost between €0.75 and €1,00 per watt peak to produce.

While initial annual production capacity will be 25 MW, he says that the factory is ready to ramp up to 100 MW in a short time, depending on demand. "Our forecasts indicate that there is big demand," he says, adding that there are some customers also interested in OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partnerships.

As it is the first photovoltaic module factory in Tunisia, many of the expected customers will come from there. However, Bargaoui says that NR-Sol will also be targeting the MENA (Middle East North Africa) regions. He adds that there is also interest from European customers.

Although the company has yet to officially open its module production line, there are already plans in place to start manufacturing solar cells, with an efficiency of around 20 percent. Currently, Bargaoui says that NR-Sol is in negotiations with equipment supplier, Meyer Burger. "It will take time," he states. "Perhaps in one year, we will start producing cells."

New incentive strategy

When asked if the weak market conditions seen in 2011 have affected NR-Sol’s photovoltaic plans, Bargaoui explains that in Tunisia, the solar market potential is very strong, due to the introduction of a new solar incentive program.

"The government has adopted a new strategy," he says. Instead of residential customers buying the generated solar electricity, the government pays, upfront, 40 percent of the photovoltaic system costs and throws in a free inverter. The remaining 60 percent of the costs are then paid for by the customer through their electricity bill over a five year, interest-free period. Later on, the utility will buy back the electricity produced at the same price that it sells it to its customers.

Meanwhile, a feed-in tariff for ground-mounted photovoltaic projects is said to be ready and awaiting approval from the ministry of industry and technology.

On the back of the new residential incentive program, Bargaoui says that the uptake of photovoltaics in Tunisia has been stronger than expected this year: while the government estimated that one MW would be installed, two MW has been added to the grid. Overall, he estimates that there is around five MW of accumulated installed capacity in the country.

Finally, says Bargaoui, there is a real solar, and renewable energy, culture in Tunisia, due to the fact the country does not have its own oil reserves, like its neighbors.

NR-Sol is part of the Bargaoui Group, headed by M. Nidhal Bargaoui, which manufactures textiles, natural fertilizers and works in international commerce. Solar is the latest product to be added to its portfolio.