Tunisian Desert Solar Project – Tapping the Sahara Sunshine to Power Europe

With a little done in past years, there have been several attempts to tap Sahara desert sunshine to effectively power Europe. After the high profile yet flopped Desertec initiative, that was not only funded by 19 shareholders but also had a budget of €400 billion, another massive project is now coming up in Tunisia.

Tunisia Desert Solar Project

This Tunisian solar project, on its successful completion, will be the first project to export solar power and making a dream come to reality. TuNur is basically a project that aims at exporting solar power from Tunisia to Europe.

With the filed request by the developers to the energy ministry operating in Tunisia, the project will build as well as operate with almost 4.5GW i.e. 9000GWh/annum, solar power plant in the country’s southwest, near Rjim Maatoug.

The power plant is expected to be spread over 10000 hectares in Tunisia (southern). And this will consist of molten salt storage with circa 18 x 125MW CSP Towers. The generated electricity, with the help of this power plant, will then be transmitted to Europe using cables that will be laid under the ocean to Italy, Malta and France.

Considering the smooth execution of the project, the first 250MW phase of the project, with connection to Malta, is likely to be running by the year 2020 with an estimated investment of €1.6 billion – says Kevin Sara, TuNur chief executive.

She further adds that on completion of the project, the development will cover nearly 3 x the area of Manhattan i.e. 25000 hectares. The area has so much marginal land which is not appropriate for agriculture purpose, the land is just sitting there idle and there is so much appreciation and excitement amongst the local people as we are going to do something about that land.

The Challenges Faced by the Tunisia Desert Solar Project

In the year 2014, Tunisia ranked as the 3rd country in the entire world to ink into their constitution – climate protection. This was then followed by the renewable energy law, in the year 2015.

While the Tunisian ministry has not yet responded to the request, Sara remains optimistic about the execution of the project and claims that the opening up of the renewable export industry was also the will of the parliament.

On the other hand, a few North Africans are already wary of the entire enterprise. In 2015, Algerian activist – Hamza Hamouchene literally accused its proponents, calling it as neo-colonialism. He said that Sahara is a vast idle land, which is also sparsely populated and that constitute a great opportunity for providing Europe with power, so that it can add more to it extravagant consumerist lifestyle, also profligate consumption of energy.

He also claimed that the same tactics were actually used by colonial powers in order to justify their civilizing missions. Hamza takes Tunisian project as a well intended and suspicious project whereas Sara believes in the results of the project and the development of the solar export sector, hoping the timely and successful completion of the project in the coming years.

Further reading

For more information, visit our blog post about solar windows and solar panels.

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