Plans for the Sahara region to export solar power to Europe have been brought back to life by a filing of TuNur Ltd, which has requested the Tunisian ministry of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy to authorise a 4.5 GW solar energy export project.
The mega-solar project, designed primarily to produce energy for export to Europe, is expected to be located in a newly established solar complex in the Sahara Desert in Southwest Tunisia – a site located close to Réjim Maâtoug in the Kébili Governorate.
The technology chosen is concentrated solar power using parabolic mirrors to heat a tower containing molten salt that in turn heats water to generate steam to run a turbine. This technology has seen significant cost reductions in the past few years.
According to Daniel Rich, the chief operating officer at TuNur, the initial production costs for the first phase will be $85 million, producing an energy cost of 10.1 US-cent/kWh.
Mr Rich said: “Today you have a market in need of low carbon dispatchable power, which has the mechanisms to import power from other countries”.
He added: “Next door is a region with extreme solar resource and in need for investment and development. Finally, there are technologies that can satisfy the demand at very competitive pricing and have a very high local impact”.
The project will be divided into three phases with three different routes through HVDC submarine cable systems. The proposed first cable will link Tunisia with Malta, at a cost of approximately €1.6 billion and will transfer 250-500 MW of solar energy. Malta is already connected to the European mainland via a 100 km undersea power line that transmits electricity to Sicily. This means that the route can be completed by the construction of a 500 km transmission system connecting Tunisia to Malta. The second cable would connect Tunisia directly to central Italy, coming ashore at a point north of Rome.
This second route has being studied for several years, as an EU ‘project of common interest. It is expected to transfer 2000 MW of solar energy.
A third cable which will link Tunisia to the south of France, possibly to Marseille, is under study, and could transfer around 2000 MW.
Kevin Sara, CEO of TuNur commented: “The economics of thede projects are compelling: the site in the Sahara receives twice as much solar energy compared to sites in central Europe, thus, for the same investment, we can produce twice as much electricity”. “In a subsidy-free world, we will always be a low cost producer, even when transmission costs are factored in”.
TuNur Ltd is a private company incorporated in the UK. Its principal shareholders are London-based solar power developer Nur Energie and Tunisian and Maltese investors.
A similar attempt, the well known Desertec project, was made some years ago. This was an initiative led by German investors to export huge amounts of solar power from Tunisia to Europe. That initiative was abandoned, one of the reasons being the political instability in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) regions. That problem has not necessarily gone away – there is, for example, an ongoing border dispute between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara.