Electric energy generated in North Africa will soon reach Europe to power it for many years to come. A massive solar power project in Tunisia with a completed capacity of 4.5 GW will become the biggest solar power plant in the world, and the first designed exclusively for export.
The TuNur project, 50% owned by U.K.-based company Nur Energie and 50% owned by investors in Tunisia and Malta, will export electrical energy with under-the-sea cables to Malta, France and Italy. The 250-MW first phase of the project will be implemented by 2020 for an estimated cost of 1.6 billion euros.
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)
TuNur will be based on concentrated solar power (CSP) technology using the modality known as power tower systems. This type of CSP uses a large field of flat mirrors—heliostats—that track the sun throughout the day and focus all the sunlight onto a unique receiver on top of a tower. There, at the receiver, a heat transfer fluid is heated to generate steam that, in turn, drives standard turbine-generators to produce electricity. More advanced designs, such as the TuNur project, use molten nitrate salt as a heat-transfer fluid because it can also be used as an energy-storage system that allows the continued dispatch of energy even during cloudy weather or during the night. This government video demonstrates CSP technology.
This ability to store energy before powering a generator makes CSP technology a perfect match as a fossil-fuel backup that could allow existing fossil fuel plants to run clean operations at the same or lower cost. This can be achieved by replacing the source of energy that produces the steam—fossil fuel—with clean solar power from a CSP plant. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), between 11 and 21 GW of CSP could be built and integrated into existing fossil fuel plants in the United States. This is sufficient electricity to power between three and six million homes.
The TuNur project is divided into three stages. The aforementioned 250 MW first stage will be one of biggest thermal solar power plants in the world, delivering power to Malta. From the project site—Rjim Maatough in Southern Tunisia—to its destination in Malta, a 250 MW HVDC line will be built.
The second stage, with an approximate capacity of 2,250 MW (or 2.25 GW) will deliver electricity to Italy through a dedicated 2,000 MW HVDC transmission line that will end north of Rome. From there a 9,000 GWh per year, low-carbon power will be delivered to some countries in Europe.
The third stage with 2 GW of capacity will end in France. Details will be supplied soon.
When the project is fully realized, the power plant will cover over 25,000 hectares. This is three times the area of Manhattan. “There is so much land in the Sahara, which is completely marginal land—it is not good enough for agriculture,” said Kevin Sara, chief executive officer at Nur Energie. “It is just sitting there and the local people are delighted that we are coming to do something with it.”
“CSP is a proven technology and the Sahara is an area of the optimum solar resource. Successful government programs such as Masen in Morocco prove that developing solar in the Sahara is a cost effective source of renewable energy today. This coupled with the growing energy demand and need for low carbon and non-intermittent power in Europe makes North Africa an optimum region for large scale solar development,” added Sara.