Wow, the Desertec vision is barreling into realization! A clean energy future where the world’s deserts supply huge amounts of solar energy to the whole of humankind is truly becoming reality. Now the fourth Desertec project, by far the largest-ever solar plant in the world – for 2,000 MW of solar power – is to be built in Tunisia. The plant will produce twice the amount of power of an average nuclear power plant.
(Previous stories: Desertec Begins: 500 MW Moroccan Solar in 2012, then MedGrid joined up, providing the transmission needed, with the plan to export up to 5GW of renewable power by cable under the Mediterranean between North Africa and Europe as early as 2020, and then most recently, the 3rd Desertec Deal Signed – Algerian Solar.)
How huge will this solar project be? 2,000 MW (2 GW) is six times the size of the largest solar CSP project ever built worldwide at 354 MW, and over four times larger than the biggest power plant of any type in Tunisia, a 471 MW gas power plant. 1,000 megawatts (MW) equals 1 gigawatt (GW).
The huge 2 GW TuNur Concentrating Solar-thermal Power (CSP) plant from the Mediterranean solar developer – and founding member of MedGrid – Nur Energie will produce solar power daytimes in the hot Tunisian sun using heliostats – mirrors mounted on steel poles reflecting sun into a receiver – and store some of the heat in molten salts, to use for further delivery of electric power by night. (Solar thermal uses steam-driven turbines like coal or gas plants. But sunlight, a free and clean fuel heats the water for steam.)
Like the other desert nations who will be part of the Desertec project, Tunisia has three times the solar insulation of Europe. Nur Energie has identified the site in Tunisia, made long-term measurements of the solar radiation there, and identified an economically and technically viable cable route between Tunisia and Italy, and, just recently, negotiated a 2000 MW grid connection offer from an Italian grid operator, at an optimal landing point in central Italy. The transmission is a key element.
The power will be shipped across the sea to Europe via special high voltage, direct current transmission (HVDC) cables, which lose only around 3% of the electricity they carry per 1,000km, much more efficient than AC cables.
From Desertec’s very beginning in 1986, when the originator of this vision, Gerhard Knies, a German particle physicist, estimated how much intense desert solar power it would take to meet humanity’s entire demand for electricity, the grid was key.
He concluded that because of the distances needed to cross the water from the sunny desert regions of the world to the high population areas, it would mean that the usual AC transmission would need to be swapped out for HVDC.
Speaking generally (not of its own clean energy projects) Nur Energie’s CEO Kevin Sara says,”We are used to transporting exhaustible fuels like oil and gas thousands of kilometers and then burning them close to our cities with all the associated pollution problems and other risks to humans and our environment”.
Nur Energie is a DESERTEC Foundation and Dii partner, and a founding member of MedGrid – the second Desertec connection made – for transmission.
“Now, with the TuNur project”, continues Sara, “we are turning away from these polluting fuels to transmit clean and inexhaustible energy from the heart of the desert to European homes whilst, at the same time, bringing jobs, economic development, and export revenue to Tunisia.”
Nur Energie is an independent solar project developer already active in the Mediterranean, developing both PV and CSP solar, in France, Greece, Tunisia and Morocco. It will manufacture the heliostats locally, building 825,000 flat plate mirror and steel heliostats in Tunisia itself. The TuNur will benefit Tunisia by creating as many as 20,000 jobs and spurring investments in local education to aid the long term management of the plants after 2016.
And if any European nation has not yet signed up for this carbon-free fuel of the future, Still Stenzel, the CEO of TurNur has this offer. “We welcome additional participation from any companies and governments interested in importing clean, solar power from Tunisia.”