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01/27/2012 01:42 PM     print story email story  

2 Gigawatts Planned for Tunisia in Fourth Desertec Project News

Tunisia is the fourth country to sign onto the Desertec project, with an agreement to build 2 gigawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP).

The mammoth TuNur Concentrating Solar Thermal plant, which will also have energy storage capacity to produce solar electricity at night, will be six times larger than any CSP plant built yet. It will supply energy to about 750,000 homes in Europe.

Mediterranean solar developer Nur Energie will build the plant. It will manufacture the 825,000 heliostats in Tunisia, creating about 20,000 solar jobs and spurring investment in solar skills development to maintain the plants long-term.

Nur Energie has already signed an agreement to deliver the energy to a grid operator in Italy via ultra-efficient direct current transmission cables, which only lose about 3% of the electricity they carry per 1,000 kilometers.

Desertec and STEG Energies Renouvelables (STEG ER) also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to conduct pre-feasibility studies for large-scale solar and wind projects in Tunisia, including their integration into the local grids and export of power to Europe.

The Tunisia project comes on the heels of a 500 MW Moroccan plant, and an agreement for 22,000 MW of renewable energy in Algeria. The grid development project, Medgrid, plans to develop transmission cables under the Mediterranean Sea to export about 5 GW of energy to Europe as early as 2020.

Until these announcements, Desertec was viewed as impractical, pie-in-the-sky plan to develop enough solar plants in the Sahara desert to supply 15% of Europe's energy. But now, it looks like it's coming to fruition. Desertec now has 56 partners in 15 countries.

CSP plants are notorious for water consumption, however, which is needed to keep the heliostats clean. That's especially true in the Saharan desert where blowing sand leaves layers of dust. Siemens is designing new solar panels that repel dust and resist sand build-up in a partnership with the Masdar Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi.

Watch this 7 minute video to learn about the Tunisia solar project:

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