Libya aims to get about fifth of power from solar by 2020

* Libya close to issuing two tenders for solar plants

* Plans to set up electricity regulatory authority

BRUSSELS, April 11 (Reuters) - Libya is nearly ready to issue tenders for two new solar plants and aims to get a fifth of its power from renewable sources by 2020, while its sunshine could one day supply all of Europe, its electricity minister said.

Until now, the member country of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has relied almost entirely on its oil and gas reserves for its energy needs.

“In 20 to 30 years Libya may run out of oil, therefore we plan to replace it with renewables,” Electricity Minister Ali Mohammed Muhairiq told a Brussels conference on sustainable energy on Thursday.

“My projection is 20 percent (renewable electricity) by 2020, mainly through solar energy,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

Calling for international investors to supplement Libyan cash, he said: “I think if we just used less than 5 percent of the Libyan desert, annually it could power the whole of Europe.”

He said Libya also planned to set up an electricity regulatory authority by the end of the year.

The country is still rebuilding infrastructure and institutions as it recovers from civil war.

The European Commission has backed the idea of working with north African nations to develop their vast wind and solar potential and eventually connect it to the European grid.

It has given support to Desertec, a German consortium set up in 2009, which envisages Europe will import up to a fifth of its electricity from solar and wind parks in North Africa and the Middle East by 2050.

Algeria, another north African OPEC nation, was also represented at Thursday’s conference and officials say it is aiming for ambitious levels of renewable power.

Noureddine Boutarfa, CEO of Algeria’s state-owned utility Sonelgaz, said the country aspired to get 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, chiefly solar, by 2030.

Libya and Algeria are relatively small oil producers within OPEC, but even the biggest, Saudi Arabia, is developing solar power. Renewable energy can help the country maximise its lucrative oil exports by reducing the amount of oil it burns domestically to generate electricity. (Writing by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Anthony Barker)