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Desert 2GW solar plants to power Europe

Africa CSP plants will export solar thermal energy 600km across Europe

DESERTEC aims to harness the solar generating potentional of the world's deserts
The DESERTEC Foundation aims to harness the solar generating potential of the world's deserts

Plans are underway to construct a series of solar power plants in Africa to produce 2000MW for Europe. Using thousands of mirrors to track the Tunisian sun to use its heat to generate electricity, the TuNur Concentrating Solar-thermal Power (CSP) plants will ultimately produce 2GW of electricity, which will be exported over 600km across Europe.

The TuNur network of CSP plants will eventually form North Africa’s biggest solar generation facility; part of a plan from the DESERTEC Foundation to harness the solar electricity generating potential of the world's deserts.

Project developer Nur Energie and its Tunisian partners, led by Top Oilfield Services, plan to construct the project in several phases. The first phase is expected to begin in 2014 and the first electricity exports are set to reach Europe by 2016 via a new low-loss transmission line to Italy. The project has been designed to reduce water requirements to a bare minimum by using a dry, air-based cooling system.

Fethi Somrani, CEO of the Tunisian partner Top Oilfield Services, said: "This is a time of great change in Tunisia and across North Africa, and it couldn’t be more appropriate to actively, and responsibly, invest in long-term projects in this emerging democracy now. Industrial investment for job creation is the most effective way to alleviate poverty and to provide opportunities for Tunisia’s young population. DESERTEC can really support this vision, and with our TuNur project we are taking a first concrete step in this direction."

Nur Energie’s chief executive officer, Kevin Sara, said: "TuNur is going to be the blueprint for things to come. It is a pioneering project that other governments, companies and individuals can point to and say, Solar energy export from North Africa to Europe is possible, it’s worthwhile and the DESERTEC vision is attainable”.

“We are used to transporting exhaustible fuels like oil and gas thousands of kilometers and then burning them close to our cities with all the associated pollution problems and other risks to humans and our environment. Now, with the TuNur project, we are turning away from these polluting fuels to transmit clean and inexhaustible energy from the heart of the desert to European homes whilst, at the same time, bringing jobs, economic development, and export revenue to Tunisia."

The DESERTEC Foundation is endorsing TuNur and believes that it can serve as a blueprint for the development of further wind and solar projects in the Sahara. The reasons for this are:

The project will focus on maximising local value creation in Tunisia. It provides the country with the opportunity to begin building a new industrial sector, bringing investment, jobs, and thus economic development. Investment will mainly benefit the southern and interior parts of the country, which look set to become a priority area for development for the Tunisian government.

The number of jobs created directly and indirectly over the project’s construction and operational period will come to around 20,000. As well as relying on local partners and management for project development and local engineering firms, the project will also create new manufacturing industries. For example, around 825,000 flat plate mirrors and steel structures known as heliostats will be needed for the 2GW project and can be manufactured locally.

TuNur demonstrates DESERTEC’s conviction that investing in renewables where those energy sources are most abundant is the most effective way of protecting the climate.

In Tunisia, space is more abundant and the solar radiation is up to three times that of Central Europe. Plants built in such optimal locations produce more electricity and have the potential to replace more conventional, carbon-intensive forms of power.

TuNur can provide predictable power production to electricity grids with fluctuating energy sources such as photovoltaic and wind power. Using heat storage tanks, TuNur can produce electricity on demand day and night, delivering enough clean electricity to power 700 000 European homes.