A solar energy project in the Tunisian Sahara aims to generate enough clean energy by 2018 to power two million European homes. Matt Stock reports.
Called the TuNur project; developers, including renewable investment company Low Carbon and solar developer Nur Energie, say the site will produce twice as much energy as the average nuclear power plant. But instead of using typical photovoltaic cells that only generate power during the day; they're using Concentrated Solar Power. Using a vast array of mirrors to concentrate and reflect the intense Saharan sun to a central tower, water or molten salt is heated to over 500 degrees Celsius. The steam produced powers a turbine which in turn generates electricity. This, says Nur Energie's CEO Kevin Sara, means the plant will produce electricity even when the sun is down. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KEVIN SARA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF NUR ENERGIE, SAYING: "The technology that you can deploy in the desert is baseload renewable power; that means you can actually replace fossil fuel power plants because we can generate 24-7 using solar power." Transmission lines will take the electricity to the Tunisian coast where a dedicated undersea cable will connect it to the European grid via a hub in northern Italy. Over ten millions euros has already gone into identifying the best location in the Tunisian Sahara to harness the intense solar radiation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KEVIN SARA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF NUR ENERGIE, SAYING: "It's quite large; it's 10,000 hectares - a hundred square kilometres. But there's nothing there, it's just sand and a few bushes." With energy security a big concern, Sara says the project has the potential to help end Europe's reliance on fossil fuels using 'desert power'. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KEVIN SARA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF NUR ENERGIE, SAYING: "We believe that this is really opening a new energy corridor. This could be the first of many projects, and we could gradually de-carbonise the European grid using desert power, using this solar energy with storage from the Sahara desert and linked to Europe with high-voltage DC cables which are very, very low in their losses." Tunisia is seeking to bolster its stability following the 2011 uprising, with lack of jobs and growth contributing to the unrest. The team behind the TuNur project hope the Saharan sunshine will be a shining light not only for renewable energy, but for the future of Tunisia.