Concentrated Solar Power could soon come to Tunisia

The Tunisian Sahara Desert could soon be the home of a 4.5 GW Concentrated Solar Power facility – and the energy produced there may be exported to Europe.

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What is concentrated solar power?

Concentrated Solar Power (or CSP for short) is one way of capturing energy from the sun. It is different from photovoltaic solar, which directly converts sunlight into electricity by a process called the photoelectric effect.

Instead, CSP uses mirrors called heliostats – thousands, or in some cases tens of thousands – to reflect direct sunlight and concentrate it on a receiver.

This receiver contains a liquid solution that can conduct heat, typically a molten salt. The heated solution is then channelled through a conventional generator, heating water to produce steam and using this steam to generate electricity.

The most common CSP design features parabolic troughs. These are curved mirrors with a receiver running parallel to the centre; the sunlight is focussed here to heat the solution.

Another design uses mirrors dotted around a central tower with a receiver located at the top; this is concentrated at a specific location on the tower (or towers). This tower contains a similar solution, which is again used to generate electricity.

In either design, the mirrors use a tracking system to follow the sun through the day, maximising the efficiency of the system. Additionally, the solution can retain heat for hours – meaning that CSP can continue to generate electricity when there is little or no sunlight.

The technology is best suited to areas with consistently high exposure to sunlight. As such, they are typically found in countries with desert regions.

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The TuNur project

In California, a 392 MW Ivanpah CSP facility sits on the edge of the Mojave Desert, while in Morocco, the 160 MW Noor I complex is near the Sahara Desert. The proposed Tunisian facility would sit on the other side of the Sahara Desert.

While these conditions limit the number of locations where CSP can be most effectively used, the Tunisian installation would benefit from the simultaneous development of a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) export system.

This network would allow for energy generated at the site to be transported further afield – in this case to Europe via Malta, Italy and France via undersea cables.

These HVDC cables would allow for the transmission of electricity over long distances with minimal loss, while also laying the foundations for a continent-wide electrical infrastructure (you can read more about HVDC and the European Super Grid here).

By exporting energy to Europe, the company behind the project see it as “part of the solution to… meeting the expected surge in electricity demand from electric vehicles” across Europe and North Africa.

TuNur is co-owned by a UK-based renewable energy developer, and you can read more about it by visiting their website here.