Malta-Europe’s link to Africa's solar energy

Malta is about to become the recipient of 250MW solar energy from a Tunisia-based solar project, called Tu-Nur.
Published: Mon 14 Aug 2017

A permit request has already been filed with the Tunisian energy minister to build the 4.5GW farm which will be located in the northern part of the Sahara desert near Rjim Maatoug.

This first phase of the project, which will link Malta and Tunisia, will cost approximately €1.6bn and will come in to operation by 2020 according to TuNur’s chairman Joseph Zammit who is also the chairman of the Zammit Group. The group is involved in the oil and gas industries, amongst other activities like automobile imports and shipping.

The TuNur project is 50% owned by UK-based company Nur Energie and 50% owned by investors from Tunisia (Cherif Ben Cherifa) and Malta’s Zammit Group.

Malta to become energy hub

Three HVDC sub-sea cable systems are under development, which will enable the transmission of power to Europe with low losses.

The first phase of the project involves the sub-sea connection between Malta and Tunisia. Since Malta is already connected to the European grid, it will reinforce the island’s position as an “energy hub” in the centre of the Mediterranean. 

The second cable 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.

World’s largest thermal solar facilities

The TuNur project will use concentrated solar power technology, which works by reflecting the sun’s rays onto a central tower from an array of mirrors. Using molten salt to store the energy, it will flex generation to meet variable demand. The initial 250MW plant could be one of the world’s largest thermal solar facilities.

If fully realised, the development would cover 25,000 hectares, nearly three times the area of Manhattan.

Project chief executive Kevin Sara says that the economics of the project are compelling: “The site in the Sahara receives twice as much solar energy compared to sites in central Europe. So, for the same investment, we can produce twice as much electricity. In a subsidy-free world, we will always be a low-cost producer, even when transmission costs are factored in.”

Sahara desert-a great energy opportunity for Europe

Large-scale solar projects in the Sahara, such as the failed Desertec initiative, are viewed as excellent opportunities to reduce the cost of energy generation. These also fulfil climate commitments for oil-reliant economies. The €400bn Desertec initiative failed due to political instability in the region.

The Saharan desert land is inexpensive and mostly unused. According to UC Berkley’s Prof. Mehran Moaelem, a nuclear energy expert, only 1.2% of the African Sahara is needed to replace all forms of energy production in the world.

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