The construction of a gigantic solar power plant on the edge of the Sahara desert is being planned by a consortium of clean energy developers. It will be linked to Europe by undersea cables and could power over 5 million homes.
The solar plant would be located in southwest Tunisia and aims to tap into the Sahara desert’s vast potential to provide solar power to produce 4.5GW of power.
The TuNur consortium says that an initial 250MW could be up and running, powering Europe via an interconnector with Malta, by 2020. It would mean an extra 1,000GWh of clean power a year being made available to the European grid.
TuNur plans to exploit Tunisia’s abundant sunshine and large amount of land that is unsuitable for agriculture. The firm’s most ambitious version of its scheme is a solar facility that covers 25,000 hectares, an area nearly the size of Malta.
The second stage of the plan is to construct Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) towers with a capacity of 2.25GW, which would be connected to Italy, just south of Rome, via another cable that would deliver 9,000GWh per year. CSP technology works by focusing the sun’s rays onto a central tower using a vast array mirrors. Molten salt is then used to store the energy.
This second 600km cable has been under development for a number of years and is currently being evaluated as a project of common interest by the EU. A third cable that will link Tunisia with France and more towers that would bring capacity up to 4.5GW are also planned.
Europe currently has about 100GW of solar photovoltaic power capacity, the bloc’s sixth largest source after natural gas, wind, coal, large hydro and nuclear.
If TuNur’s plan to add 4.5GW of renewable energy to the mix comes to fruition, then Brussels’ renewable energy targets will be easier to achieve, especially if the initial phase of 250MW comes online by 2020, when the EU’s 20% renewable energy goal has its deadline.