Saturday, August 05, 2017

Giant Tunisian Desert Solar Project Aims to Power EU

Developer TuNur this week applied for authorization to build a massive solar plant on the edge of the Tunisian Sahara, with undersea grid connections to Europe.

There has been talk of tapping into the Sahara desert’s vast resources of sunshine to power Europe for years, but little to show for it.

The high-profile Desertec initiative, conceived with 19 shareholders and a budget of €400 billion, flopped amid cost concerns and political instability across North Africa.

Now a massive project in Tunisia is hoping to be the first to make the solar power export dream a reality.  Developer TuNur this week filed a permit request to the energy ministry to build 4.5GW of capacity near Rjim Maatoug, in the southwest of the country.

The electricity generated is destined for Europe, with cables under the sea to Malta, Italy and France.

If all goes smoothly, TuNur chief executive Kevin Sara told Climate Home a first 250MW phase, with a connection to Malta, could be running by 2020, for an estimated €1.6 billion investment.

The business case rests on Tunisia’s bountiful sunshine – up to 20% more than the best sites in Europe, according to TuNur – and vast area of uncultivated land. EU climate and clean energy goals create demand.

TuNur plans to use concentrated solar power technology, which works by reflecting the sun’s rays onto a central tower from an array of mirrors.  Using molten salt to store the energy, it can flex generation to meet variable demand.  The initial 250MW plant would already be one of the largest thermal solar facilities on earth.

If fully realized, the development would cover 25,000 hectares, nearly three times the area of Manhattan.  “There is so much land, which is completely marginal land – it is not good enough for agriculture,” said Sara.  “It is just sitting there and the local people are delighted that we are coming to do something with it.”

In 2014 Tunisia became the third country in the world to ink climate protection into its constitution.  That was followed by a renewable energy law in 2015.

Political hurdles remain.  TuNur lobbied hard to get provision for exports included in the clean energy legislation, against resistance from the state electricity monopoly.  This is its first test case.

Read more at Giant Tunisian Desert Solar Project Aims to Power EU

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