In the sands of North Africa, plans are underway
to launch an ambitious solar energy project that will become a benchmark for
meeting the world’s future energy needs. In Frankfurt, Germany, in January 2012,
the Desertec Foundation announced its support of the project to the German press. The Foundation’s group of volunteers from
civil society were on hand, alongside Foundation supporters and
representatives of NurEnergie, a developer and operator of solar power plants. Together, they unveiled to the public
their collaboration that will realise the visionary renewable energy project known as “TuNur”,
that will harness the power of the Tunisian sun. While fielding questions from journalists,
the group assembled by the DESERTEC Foundation detailed the logistical, technical and even
political aspects that will unite to create TuNur. Together, this group presented their vision
of a sustainable future that begins today with a tangible and attainable endeavour. The DESERTEC Concept is a comprehensive solution.
That means the future energy supply will be a combination of of different renewable energies: solar photovoltaic,
concentrating solar thermal power (CSP), wind, hydropower, geothermal and so on.
We must ensure that this mixed energy supply and power production is reliable and sustainable.
One of the key concerns of the DESERTEC Foundation is how we can use the impressive developments
in wind and photovoltaic to provide a secure energy supply in the long term. One of the technical possibilities for doing so is a big expansion
of concentrating solar thermal power capacity with thermal storage, which enables the delivery
of power day and night. Therefore, it is clearly not a question of
supplying either Europe or North Africa with clean power but rather meeting a percentage of the
future energy demand of Europe and a big percentage of the future energy demand of
North Africa through CSP and other technologies. We are presenting just such a project to you today. The DESERTEC Foundation is lending its support
to Nur Energie and its Tunisian partners led by Top Group to realize a future powered
by clean energies that begins in the Saharan deserts of Tunisia. Using thousands of mirrors to track and
direct the heat of the Tunisian sun to generate electricity, the “TuNur”
Concentrating Solar-thermal Power (CSP) plant will ultimately produce 2 Gigawatts of electricity,
roughly double the average nuclear power plant. By building a low-loss transmission line to Italy,
TuNur can deliver enough electricity to power approximately 700 000 European homes. Testimony to the potential of African-based
CSP power plants for European markets. And with none of the carbon and toxic emissions
produced through conventional energy sources, the TuNur plant provides a viable and progressive
blueprint for the energy production of the future. The TuNur project of Nur Energie and its
partners in Tunisia is an excellent example of the realization of the DESERTEC Concept. The project has been evaluated by an independent
team of experts and, based on the review of the development so far, the project fulfills
the criteria of the DESERTEC Concept. That means solar energy is used to produce power on
a large-scale day and night; the plant is connected to a grid that links North Africa to Europe; and it
supports local economic development in Tunisia. That’s why the DESERTEC Foundation
endorses the TuNur project. Soon both Europe and Tunisia will enjoy
the benefits of this exciting collaboration. Construction of TuNur in southern Tunisia should
begin in 2014. According to the plans of project developer Nur Energie, the plant and the
transmission line will be operational by 2016. With this important first step, we are showing
governments, industries, and consumers that what many thought to be science
fiction is actually science fact. The concentrating solar power project in Tunisia
will use state of the art technologies that actually use very simple processes that will make
use of the sun’s energy that surrounds us every day. Effectively, we use glass, steel and water. No toxic by-products, no emissions, no carbon
footprint. Natural production on an industrial scale. TuNur’s array of mirrors will track and reflect the
sun’s rays on to a boiler atop a central tower. When the concentrated sunlight strikes
the boiler’s pipes, it heats the water inside to 550 degrees Celsius. The steam produced
by the heated water is piped from the boiler to a turbine where electricity is generated. From here, transmission lines will
carry the power all the way to Italy. Meanwhile, in order to conserve precious desert water,
air cooling is used to convert the steam back into water. The water is then returned to the
boiler in a closed, continuous loop. What will make the TuNur solar power plant so
valuable and attractive for consumers is it’s ability to deliver dispatchable energy. With heat storage systems using molten salts,
we generate heat from sunshine during the day that ensures electricity production even
when the sun is no longer shining. With the TuNur project, we literally harvest
and store the day’s thermal energy for electricity production after sunset. Connecting the southern and northern
Mediterranean coasts, a new underwater power cable will link the African and European
continents. The 600 kilometer high-voltage direct current cable will be lain across
the Mediterranean seabed to transmit electricity from Tunisia into the Italian
grid and onward into Europe. With construction of the cable coordinated
with that of the power plant itself, electricity can be expected to flow
from Tunisia to Europe by 2016. As the impact of the Arab Spring continues to
unfold, Tunisia is now among the first North African nations to enjoy newfound
freedoms and opportunities. Having already experienced free and democratic
elections, the country can move forward with new and needed development projects.
The TuNur project will not only benefit European energy consumers, it will also bring many socio-
economic benefits to Tunisia and its people. This collaboration is not only between Nur
Energie and the DESERTEC Foundation but also between peoples and nations,
spanning two continents and many cultures. It’s a true exchange between peoples one that
benefits everyone and every nation involved. DESERTEC and Nur Energie anticipate that 60% of TuNur’s
construction costs will be spent within Tunisia itself. This investment will directly benefit the
local economy and create lasting jobs for the Tunisians involved in the
operating of the power plant. TuNur will benefit Tunisia by creating jobs and
investing in local education to aid the long-term management of the plant after 2016. Proper investment and job creation
not simple charity can help alleviate the poverty and corruption that triggered the Arab Spring. What Tunisia now requires are clear opportunities
for its young population to fulfill their rights, their jobs, democracy, and a path to prosperity. DESERTEC can really help support this vision
and with the TuNur project we are trying to take a first concrete step in this direction. We’re used to the long distance transport of dirty,
exhaustible fuels like oil and gas with all the problems that brings in terms of pollution. Now, with the TuNur project, we are actually exporting
energy that is clean, never runs out, and leaves a sustainable legacy for a country like Tunisia. TuNur is going to be the blueprint for things to come. It’s a benchmark for other governments,
companies, and individuals to point to and say: “Solar energy exports from North Africa to Europe? That can be done! It’s worthwhile and
the DESERTEC vision can be realized.” DESERTEC is setting the benchmark for future
international renewable energy projects in terms of economical, ecological, and social sustainability. All the major political, financial, and scientific
challenges surrounding solar power are being addressed. Together with Nur Energie, the
DESERTEC Foundation is successfully proposing how to create solutions for our most
urgent challenges: energy and climate security. You said that the TuNur project fulfils DESERTEC criteria.
Could you explain a little bit more about how you see the relationship between DESERTEC and TuNur
and how you are contributing to the project? We are a non-profit organisation supported by private
donations so we can’t put any money in. However, our strength is that we are independent
come from civil society and thus have a healthy dialogue with and are accepted by all parts of society.
There are two things we can do. The first is the assessment and evaluation of this project.
We can take the DESERTEC criteria to see how it relates to our criteria for power production,
for socio-economic relevance in terms of economic opportunities in Tunisia, for environmental sustainability. The other thing has to do with communication,
which is one of the major activities of the foundation. It is one of our major responsibilities to show that there are
concrete, readily-deployable solutions for the global transition to renewable energy and to make this tangible
and credible through model pilot projects. We see this project as a wonderful model pilot project
for the many other power plants that will come to look at to see how it can work. It is important to state that as part of our agreement
there will be a yearly report and a yearly re-evaluation to see where we are in the implementation of the project
and to see if it still expresses the DESERTEC criteria. We’re implementing the project and we want to operate with
proper transparency and naturally we also want to build trust. We see the DESERTEC Foundation as an important partner
because it is independent and because, having already carried out important studies,
it has a respected name. The population of the Middle East and North Africa
will grow by around 300 million people by 2050. Around 300 million people live there now
so the population will double by this date. And if you live in the desert and know how little
living space there is and how hard it is to live there then the prospect of finding space and resources for
an additional 300 million people in a region where in some places water and energy and arable land
are already overstretched is a worrying one. Ultimately, to make space for these people you will need
energy, water, jobs, prospects, and development and of course for economic development
you also need industrialisation. All of this can be achieved by harnessing the solar energy
that is there in abundance in the region’s deserts. For example, by desalinating seawater. The World Bank
is beginning to support the construction of such projects. I imagine that this is a vision that
we will also advance further through science. This project is a concrete beginning and
and I can only wish everyone involved luck. It is great. There are still a lot of questions left to answer in terms
of the technical details, the political environment and the financial frameworks but these are
all things that can be solved if we try. It is a great start and chance to achieve something. With TuNur, the DESERTEC Foundation’s advocacy
for a sustainable future created through comprehensive solutions for energy production
has reached a major milestone. In so doing, the global movement for a transition
to a sustainable future has taken a step forward.