Solar panels glint in the sun on a Tunisian lagoon, part of a long-delayed drive to harness the North African country’s vast renewable energy potential. While industry insiders complain of red tape, fossil fuel prices that soared after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine created a powerful incentive for such investments across the Maghreb region. “Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, each have an abundance of solar energy resources as well as ample wind energy resources,” said Michael Tanchum, an expert on the sector. “Extreme price pressures on natural gas, especially in Europe, have changed the calculus for investments in renewable energy.” Omar Bey, of French-based renewables developer Qair, hopes the firm’s 200-kilowatt floating solar station on a lake next to a Tunis industrial park can be a prototype for bigger projects nationwide. “Tunisia doesn’t have any choice but to go for renewables, given the situation around hydrocarbons and particularly gas,” he said, adding that innovations like floating solar stations could help. Being on reservoirs or lakes helps cool the panels, making them more efficient, and “means we can use water instead of taking up land that can be used for other things like farming or homes,” Bey said. It also helps reduce evaporation, another benefit in the water-stressed region, he said. Tunisia, on the sun-drenched Mediterranean Sea, is well-placed to produce clean energy both for domestic use and for export to energy-hungry Europe. In 2015 the country set ambitious targets for renewables. But last year green sources accounted for only 2.8 percent of the country’s energy mix and the rest came from natural gas, according to the state Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas (STEG). Tanchum, a non-resident scholar at Washington’s Middle East Institute, said “political paralysis” was holding the sector back. Tunisia has suffered more than a decade of turmoil since its 2011 revolution. Ideological wrangling has often taken precedence over transforming the economy, which depends heavily on food and energy imports. The state’s fuel subsidies bill soared 370 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period of 2021, official figures show. Yet, despite incentives to push for renewables, such efforts have been held back by legal and administrative obstacles, according to Ali Kanzari, president of an association representing solar firms. “Sometimes (imported solar panels) sit for a month or more in customs,” he said. “We need more flexible laws. Everything needs to be sped up.” One major solar station in the desert near Tataouine was finally connected to the grid in October, two years after its completion. Project head Abdelmomen Ferchichi blamed difficulties in getting permits, and the station’s distance from the grid. Bey said “misunderstandings” among some union members within STEG, wary of attempts to privatise the sector by stealth, had also delayed development. “Today, all that’s behind us,” he said. Tanchum told AFP that despite the renewables potential of the entire Maghreb, “only Morocco has emerged as a regional leader”.