When you think wide expanses of blazing solar heat, the first image that may come to mind is the Sahara Desert. An untilled, sandy arena engulfing most of North Africa.
One energy company called TuNur wants to utilize the desert’s bounty of solar heat by building a 4.5GW solar complex in the Southwest Tunisian portion of the desert, near Rejim Maatoug.
They are currently seeking approval from the Tunisian government, and if they get it, the plan is to distribute solar-derived electricity to Malta, Italy, and France using submarine cables.
Construction of the park is scheduled to start in 2018 and will cost a whopping US$6 trillion. Their aim is to power the entire European grid starting via Malta by 2021, then Italy in 2022 and France in 2024.
“The economics of the project are compelling: the site in the Sahara receives twice as much solar energy compared to sites in central Europe, thus, for the same investment, we can produce twice as much electricity,” said the company’s CEO Kevin Sara in a press release.
Despite Sara’s enthusiasm, he is still receiving significant push back from those against “energy colonialism.” London-based Algerian campaigner Hamza Hamouchene, from War on Want, writes, “we should be very critical of such mega-projects and their self-proclaimed good intentions, which often sugar-coat brutal exploitation and sheer robbery. We must always ask the relevant-as-ever questions: who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? Who wins and who loses? And whose interests are being served?”
Others also doubt the long-term success of this Nur Energie backed endeavor, referencing the failure of projects such as Desertec, a similar €400 billion proposal that folded in 2013.
Chafik Ben Rouine, a spokesman for the Tunisian Economic Observatory, is still wary of these promises, telling the Guardian, “Our biggest concern is with TuNur’s credibility as their website says they only have experience with two small solar projects. We have big concerns about their capacity to deliver this project and their financial ability to leverage it.”
Nevertheless, TuNur is pressing on with their plans, claiming over 20,000 jobs will be created with this project. Only time will tell whether this ambitious enterprise will come to fruition.
Three HVDC submarine cables are currently being developed, “The first cable links Tunisia and Malta, the second cable system will link Tunisia to central Italy, with a shoring point North of Rome. A third cable is under study and will link Tunisia directly to the South of France,” reads the company plans on their website.Source: TuNur
The solar complex would stretch across an area stretching 177 km, containing hundreds of thousands of parabolic mirrors reflecting sunlight onto towers 200m tall, heating the molten salt within them that would then broil water, generating steam that would power turbines, which in turn would provide electricity to over 2 million European homes.