Plan to supply Europe with Tunisian solar power moves closer

Solar energy joint venture TurNur has applied to the Tunisian Energy Ministry to build what would be the world’s largest solar power plant in the Rjim Maatoug, a desert region in the southwest of the country.

The plan is backed by UK-based solar specialist Nur Energy, which is active in the Mediterranean region, Glory Clean Energy, a Franco-Tunisian company set up to invest in renewable schemes, and Maltese engineer Zammit Group. The 2.25GW of electricity generated would be exported to the EU using undersea cables.

The aim is to begin with a €1.6bn, 250MW phase first phase that will be connected to Malta, which is part of the EU grid. Kevin Sara, TuNur’s chief executive, told the Climate Home website that this could be running by 2020.

TurNur’s graphic showing the completed system

The plant will take the form of a solar concentrator: concentric rings of flat "heliostat" mirrors that move to track the sun, and which focus its energy on a target containing molten salt. TurNur says this technology was chosen because of its efficiency, the cheapness of flat mirrors compared with parabolic, and the ability of thermal storage technology to drive the plant’s steam turbines during the night as well as the day.

When fully built out, the plant will have 18 125MW towers, and will export energy through underwater cables to France and Italy as well as Malta.

The developers have said they will give Tunisian manufacturers a part in the supply chain, and Tunisia will also get a share of the electricity produced. TurNur says Tunisia has 20% better quality sun than the best sites in Europe, and the price of the 10,000ha needed for the reflectors is extremely low.

The idea for the plant is not a new one – it was originally mooted in 2013 as part of a wider plan to set up a trans-European supergrid. At that time it was being promoted by a German foundation called the Desertec Industrial Initiative, which had ambitious plans to build concentrating plants across the Sahara. That project foundered in the face of what Thiemo Gropp, Desertec’s director, called "extreme challenges".

Nur Energy took over the Tunisian scheme in 2014, and has been advancing its plans since then.

Top image: Crescent Dunes, Nevada: a 110MW concentrating solar site with heliostatic mirrors (Amble/Creative Commons)

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