3rd Desertec Deal Signed – Algerian Solar Will Ship to the EU

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Desertec takes third step to reality in as many months with Sonelgaz agreement

Algeria‘s state-owned Sonelgaz has just signed the third deal in the MENA region to export desert solar power to Europe, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate with the European Desertec Initiative (DII) in the export of solar from the country, according to a report at Platts.

DII is the consortium that plans to harness the gigantic potential of the desert sun in North Africa and the Middle East to ship massive amounts of renewable energy to Europe, supplying 15 percent from the desert sun – once dismissed as a dream, but increasingly taking shape.

Algeria’s Sonelgaz is already a pioneer in solar/gas hybrid power in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

Earlier this year the nationally owned natural gas utility made good on its announced plans to piggyback a solar power plant on a larger gas plant to reduce the emissions from the fossil fuel, by increasing output relative to pollution from the fossil fuel. This kind of solar thermal can use the same turbines to make electricity from the steam it generates from the sun, that traditional thermal energy electricity uses, so it is an economic advantage likely to be used increasingly.

As part of its pledge to spend more than $20 billion in renewable electricity over the next 20 years, Algeria inaugurated the first MENA-region hybrid solar and gas power plant in July. Hassi R’Mel combines a 25 MW solar thermal array (parabolic trough solar thermal  mirror collectors, covering an area of over 180,000 square meters) with a 130 MW combined cycle plant.

At the announcement of the new MOU, broadcast from Brussels, Algerian energy and mining minister Youcef Youfsi added that other forms of renewable energy would likely be part of the mix as well, telling Platts. “With wind energy we have projects ready to start in the south and we have potential for geothermal where we are looking to get started in a very promising region in the east of the country,” the minister said. The company operates a 10 MW wind farm.

But despite it being early days for renewables from Sonelgaz, Bouterfa expressed confidence.

“The development of renewable energy is a key strategy for Algeria”, he said. “If the right conditions are met we are convinced that we can export 10 GW of solar power to Europe a year.”

This will develop solar expertize in the region.

Related: Next for MENA Nations: Desertec University)

And the home fires will be kept burning too. He has (previous story) committed to an ambitious renewable energy program for the nation that rivals that of Morocco, the other MENA region Desertec participant which plans to get 42% of its energy from the sun.

“By 2030, some 40 per cent of electricity production for national consumption will come from renewable energy,” he promises.

Desertec, once a starry eyed vision, is now an increasingly serious project spearheaded by  reinsurer Swiss Re (who is going to have to pay the ultimate price of climate change: it insures insurance companies against going under from unexpected losses, like from climate catastrophes). Now shareholders include big banks like Deutsche Bank and global engineering leaders ABB, Siemens and German utility E.ON, and it is getting underway step by step.

First, in November, the first solar project was announced in Morocco: Desertec Begins: 500 MW Moroccan Solar in 2012

Then later last month, MedGrid: Huge MedGrid Joins Giant Solar Desertec Plan (The plan to export up to 5GW of renewable power by cable under the Mediterranean Sea, between North Africa and Europe, by 2020.)

Now, with the signature of Sonelgaz agreeing to export solar power from Algeria, the Desertec Initiative takes the third step towards realizing a once impossible dream.

“Sonelgaz and DII will join forces to develop this together with grid reinforcements for the improvement of the energy mix in Algeria and in Europe all-together…The potential exports that Mr Boutarfa mentions are a very effective way to supplement the renewable sources in Europe,” said Desertec Industrial Initiative CEO Paul Van Son.

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