Plan to import North African solar energy to power UK homes


Plan to import North African solar energy to power UK homes

The ambitious TuNar project proposes the importation of solar energy generated in Tunisia, North Africa, delivered to Europe via a 450 km undersea cable to a substation near Rome where it will be fed into the European Grid. Investors claim they will be able to provide energy which is 20% cheaper than other sources.


The project will work will concentrated solar power (CSP) technology which uses thousands of mirrors to concentrate sunlight towards a central point. The TuNur site will be a 100 square kilometre array of computer-controlled mirrors which track the sun and reflect its rays towards a central tower which acts as a receiver. The tower then absorbs the heat into pipes filled with salt. The heat produced from the molten salt is used to heat water, creating steam. This steam is then used to power a turbine in order to create electricity.


The project is a partnership between Low Carbon, a British investor in renewable energy, developer Nur Energy, and Tunisian investors.  The project is a partnership between low carbon, a British investor in renewable energy, and Tunisian investors.


Developers are seeking funding from the UK government and, as such, are bidding for a contract with the UK’s department for Energy and Climate Change – who recently started allowing non-UK based projects to win government subsidies if they supply energy to Britain. It is thought that under the TuNur scheme, up to 2GW of power could be delivered to the UK if the bid is successful – enough to power 2.5 million homes by 2018.


As part of the TuNar project, research has been conducted at the proposed site in Tunisia to collect solar data. The data spans a period of three years and project executives at TuNur claim it has been independently verified. It is estimated that almost 10 million euros has already been spent on research and development for the site.


News of the project follows the collapse of a similar scheme, Desertec, which planned to generate solar power in the Middle East and Africa and export it to Europe with an ambitious plan to supply as much as 15% of Europe’s energy by 2050. The project failed to attract enough funding as several shareholders left the project in recent years over raised concerns about the concept as a whole.


Chief Executive of TuNur, Kevin Sara, said: “This is not a back-of-the-envelope fantasy. We are working with some of the largest engineering firms in the world. This is a serious project. Yes, it is risky like any big energy project is risky.


“CSP is a proven technolofy and the Sahara is an area of optimum solar resource. Successful government programmes such as Masen in Morocco prove that developing solar in the Sahara is a cost effective source of renewable energy today.


“This coupled with the growing demand and need for low carbon and non-intermittent power in Europe, makes North Africa an optimum region for large scale solar development.”


Whilst the UK government is open to the idea of using energy providers from outside of the EU, it is cautious to embrace energy generated by non-UK projects until cost effectiveness is proven.