The Sahara desert is rich in potential for solar energy, which appears to be finding its way to Europe. TuNur is a utility-scale solar power export project that is here to make this happen. Although approval is pending as the project awaits for the final “go” from the Tunisian Ministry of Energy before launching, TuNur is slated to begin delivering solar electricity to the European grid as early as 2021.
“We target delivering power to the European grid via Malta by 2021,” said TuNur’s Chief Executive Kevin Sara about the project. The following year, the first of two cables to Italy could be laid, with a French connection up and running by 2024, he added.
The 2.25 GW exported from Tunisia to Europe will be transmitted through a dedicated, underwater HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) line. The amount of energy exported is enough to power two million European homes.
A Huge Solar Power Potential
Fossil energy is on the way out, and everyone is bailing ship. After the 2014 plummet of oil prices, many governments and investors are beginning to embrace the fact that oil will not last forever. The uncertainty of oil’s future makes investing in oil-related infrastructure a short-sighted move for many investors. When it comes to making a future-proof investment, such as renewable energy, the MENA region—especially the Sahara—has some strong competitive advantages.
Being a vast area of land with a low population density, the Sahara region has a strong potential for constructing large-scale solar farms. CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) solar farms—like TuNur’s—requires a massive amount of land to be built. The CSP energy generation method generates electricity by having a large array of mirrors reflecting the sun on a central tower, which uses molten salt to store energy.
The stored energy is used to generate steam that powers a turbine-generator. Despite the advantages of the CSP system, it can only be constructed on a large scale in order to be feasible. Achieving this is not possible in many European countries. This is where large, barely-populated lands in the Sahara region become a golden opportunity.
Besides the available land plots that could be used for constructing CSP plants, the region also has a remarkably higher rate of sunshine per year than any other part of Europe. This makes building solar energy projects in this region much more efficient with a much better return on investment.
Development or Colonization?
Despite having so many supporters, some Tunisians are also wary of the project. Supporters of this project say it would produce jobs and open doors to a new, promising market for Tunisia.
Critics of the project say that exporting clean energy to Europe while Tunisia itself is having an energy problem is a form of neo-colonialism.
Algerian writer and activist Hamza Hamouchene said: “Projects like TuNur deny local people control and access to their land, rob them of resources and concentrate the value created in the hands of domestic and foreign predatory elites and private companies.”
The local tribe owning the land has already agreed to lease its land to TuNure and is quite optimistic about the project.
Regardless of the intentions or how the project is perceived by different people, it is a huge leap for renewable energy in the region.
Photo credit: TuNur