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EU Power Earth Technology

Massive Solar Plant In the Sahara Could Help Keep the EU Powered (digitaltrends.com) 257

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: In the global race to ditch fossil fuel reliance for more renewable energy sources, Europe is already making some impressive strides. That is likely to ramp up considerably thanks to a new European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert -- with the ability to generate enough power to keep much of Europe juiced up. In all, the enormous solar farm aims to produce 4.5 gigawatts of power, which can then be transmitted across the Mediterranean from Tunisia to mainland Europe. TuNur's proposed solar farm utilizes an enormous quantity of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a central collector, which uses molten salt to store the energy as heat. Three HVDC submarine cables will then transport the power to Europe. The first cable will link Tunisia and Malta, the second will link Tunisia to central Italy, and a third will link Tunisia to the south of France. "We are opening a new energy corridor to allow Europe to import cheap solar power from the Sahara on a massive scale," Daniel Rich, Chief Operating Officer of TuNur, the company behind the project, told Digital Trends. "This will help Europe meet its Paris Climate Agreement emissions reduction commitments quickly and cost effectively. It also will give a much-needed boost to the Tunisia economy through significant investment into the country, creation of thousands of jobs, new tax revenues, and the establishment of a new solar industry that can help support their future domestic demand."

Massive Solar Plant In the Sahara Could Help Keep the EU Powered

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  • by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <web@pineapple.vg> on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @06:02AM (#54962883) Homepage
    Barely enough to supply power to Ireland To really make a difference it would need to be about 450GW
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @06:10AM (#54962921)

      You have to start somewhere

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And then we'd also be subjected to political extortion from Tunisia. Nit good.

      • But it can free us from dependence on Russian gas.
      • 4.5 GW is about 1.5% of the generating capacity of the EU. So you could switch the whole thing off and nobody would notice. Not a big threat really.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        Assuming Tunisia was the only supplier. If it were one of many then they could be told to GTFO and would normally be striving to ensure their prices were competitive.

        Aside from that, there is a dividend in providing jobs in northern Africa - standards of living and education are raised and less people want to migrate to Europe, or radicalize.

        • Look at the map.
          Tunisia -> italy via submarine cable is perhaps as stable as it gets.

          Jobs are limited - a thousand or two during construction, but well under a hundred, operating.

          Algeria has had an actual shooting civil war in the last 20 years, Libya, ...

          The employment in even quite large solar plants is small.
    • Geopolitics is a much worse problem here. Probably the worst one, actually. Submarine HVDC could probably supply the whole southern Europe, but the region is a time bomb.
    • A quick check shows that the EU as a whole uses about 3,000,000 GW-hr per year.

      This plant, assuming 12 hours a day of sunlight, and no downtime, will be good for about 40,000 GW-hr. Which means they'll add about 1.3% to their total, best case.

      I find it hard to believe that an extra 1.3% is going to be a game-changer....

      • True, but i doubt its the aim to 100% reliant on one source. As we all get more energy efficient and more people get their own solar/wind and battery storage that 30000000 GW figure will reduce
        • Or people could also try and lower the energy they use.

          I have a friend who still has incandescent light bulbs in his house, uses a 60" TV with an Xbox One to watch Netflix and then complains about his electric bill.

      • As others have said, it's a start. I recall growing up one of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures showing that an area of the Sahara that looked about one square centimetre on a global could provide enough solar power for the entire world and I wondered if that was still true. The current world power consumption is around 110PWh/year. Assuming 1KW for 12 hours per square metre (100% efficiency - infeasible), that works out at 4.38MWh/year, that works out at around 2.5e10 square metres, or around 0.3
      • "This plant, assuming 12 hours a day of sunlight, and no downtime, "

        This one generates heat and will produce power 24/7 not only during daytime.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @09:13AM (#54963929) Homepage Journal

        It provides significant power during times of peak demand. And it's the first one.

        Anyway, if we are willing to invest tens of billions of Euros in single nuclear plants that generate less than half that much, it seems like it's pretty "significant".

    • To send 3.7 Delorians back to the future!!

      Sorry.. had to be said.

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        Damn, I'm going to have to use 1.21 GW to go back and beat you to this. Bravo sir.

      • You use 1.21 gigawatts for one DeLorean and you use the remaining 3.29 gigawatts to power a replicator to make more solar panels.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        So I can assume that the main threat to it would be Libyan terrorists? ;)

    • Barely enough to supply power to Ireland To really make a difference it would need to be about 450GW

      You make it sound like that's not an accomplishment? An entire country on one power plant? If that's not making a difference you're not thinking about this in the right mindset.

      Anyway, I wonder if anyone has attempted in doing some math on supply & demand for fossil fuels. Pretending they do *actually* build this thing, maybe another or two, which is a big pretend. How is this going to affect pricing of fossil fuels? What will 5% less demand in Europe correlate to, regarding the prices? 5% in lock

    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      Yeah, the company itself makes no grandiose claims about supplying much of Europe's needs. They are rather more fact-based: 2.5m homes. Not bad for 100sq km of desert. Plenty of room for expansion

    • One of the advantages of solar is not being dependent for energy on people who hate us. This project would knock out that argument.

    • I agree. Not a very impressive amount of energy at all. It won't even power 4 Deloreans.
  • Energy security? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amalcolm ( 1838434 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @06:11AM (#54962931)
    I wonder where the cables will run through north Africa? A lot of unstable regimes there, would be easy for terrorists to cut/blow up the cables, whether overhead or underground. Not good for energy security.
    • by kipsate ( 314423 )
      Redundancy can help. Just put three cables, 1000 km apart.
    • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @06:44AM (#54963083) Journal

      I live in Vietnam and we've had our internet access severely crippled seven (eight, nine?) times in the last few years because the submarine cables connecting the country to the rest of the world have been mysteriously severed.

      I've looked at the map and it seems that every time, the approximate place where the cables (I believe all three of the ones that currently connect Vietnam) have been cut has been in a place that it would only affect Vietnam. For example the Asian American Gateway cable connects the U.S. with a bunch of nations here but I think it was only in the spur that connects Vietnam that was cut.

      Of course it could be due to natural causes; undersea disturbances, fishermen dredging up fiber optic cables for their copper cladding (about a decade ago that was the reason!), even sharks. But since the government made damaging these cables a crime against the "national infrastructure" (which may be a capital offense) and since Vietnam, unlike some of its neighbors, is not a particularly active seismic zone, I'm not so sure. Of course one major power would have the will and ability to sever these cables without Vietnam being able to do anything (and maybe not being able to catch them doing it): China. What better way to cripple your up and coming neighbor's economy while getting away with complete deniability. (Fortunately, not all the cables were cut at the same time but that could be because it was only meant as a warning).

      I believe that once, in the 50s or 60s, the then Soviet Union tried to cut some of the transatlantic cables connecting the U.S. with Europe. I understand that the U.S. quickly determined that the cables were not failing due to natural causes and since there was only one other country with the means to do so, quickly told the Soviets to stop or it would be WAR. (The U.S. was also developing means of tracking all sorts of submarine activity so maybe they didn't have to rely on deduction). Unfortunately, the Vietnamese cannot absolutely positively pin it on the Chinese (other powers may be playing some sneaky dirty games) and anyway they don't have nukes (or a decent military) to push back 1.3 billion people! (They also don't have any kind of decent underwater surveillance capabilities in contrast to the sonar/intelligence net the Chinese are intending to deploy throughout the entire South China sea.)

      So, as much as I'd like to see a jobs program to try to (vainly?) employ the exploding numbers of millions (hundreds of millions? Soon billions?) of under/unemployed Africans to reduce Europe's carbon footprint, I don't think the governments involved would take the risk of being so reliant on three cables that could be instantly cut. Better would be to export the power to sub-saharan Africa to drive their economies with cheap, zero-C power.

    • Tunisia - and the other north african countries - are coastal and border the mediterranean sea so cable is going straight into the sea towards europe.

    • by paulatz ( 744216 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @07:19AM (#54963247)

      If you had a clue about geography (or just checked a map) you may have noticed that the cable would pass entirely in Tunisia, closer to the border with Algeria than with Libya. Both Tunisia and Algeria are relatively politically stable, although Algeria is not very democratic.

      Anyway, it is possible that the project will go nowhere, but I'm pretty sure that the engineers and politicians involved will take due care to read all this Slashdot discussion and take in account your valuable expertise on the subject, they may even send you some money for the invaluable insight you have provided!

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @07:47AM (#54963399)

      I wonder where the cables will run through north Africa? A lot of unstable regimes there, would be easy for terrorists to cut/blow up the cables, whether overhead or underground. Not good for energy security.

      You're right. But the current situation is that much of Europe's energy is supplied by Russia, which, in the current geopolitical climate, is even worse for energy security because it gives the Kremlin the power to strongarm the Union by threatening to raise prices or close the gas flow entirely.

      If only there was a mineral of some sort in the ground that could be used to generate energy via nuclear fission that was safer per kilowatt than other energy production sources [forbes.com],and if only someone had devised ways of storing the radioactive waste safely [wikipedia.org]...

      But because radiation is scary to people who do not understand the difference between modern reactors and Chernobyl/Fukushima, my fellow Europeans seem somehow terrified by it, even though countries like France have been using it to generate over a third of all their energy for long.

      Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying nuclear is the perfect solution. It's not. But it's a whole lot better for energy security and for the climate than continuing to use coal, oil and natural gas while we try to figure out cleaner solutions that work even in less sunny areas.

      • But the current situation is that much of Europe's energy is supplied by Russia, which,
        That is wrong. Especially if we talk about electricity.

        Basically only Germany is importing from Russia and that is mostly gas for heating houses, not for making electricity.

      • I'm not saying nuclear is the perfect solution. It's not. But it's a whole lot better for energy security and for the climate than continuing to use coal, oil and natural gas while we try to figure out cleaner solutions that work even in less sunny areas.

        We don't have to figure them out. We just have to convince people to put them in. They already work.

      • You're right. But the current situation is that much of Europe's energy is supplied by Russia, which, in the current geopolitical climate, is even worse for energy security because it gives the Kremlin the power to strongarm the Union by threatening to raise prices or close the gas flow entirely.

        But as far as Russia is concerned, hampering the gas flow would be suicidal for their economy. Whether it would be as suicidal for a North African country renting land to a European power plant, I'm not so sure.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        It's not fear of radiation that makes nuclear unpopular in Europe, it's the cost. The new plant in the UK is the most expensive object on earth.

  • Do the Tunisians get any of the electricity?

    Or do we just throw a few beads at them and move in?

    • by l20502 ( 4813775 )
      They also get solar mirror cleaning jobs
    • Do the Tunisians get any of the electricity? Or do we just throw a few beads at them and move in?

      Now that is racist. Tunisians don't need payment in goods, rather payment in money and let them decide, if they rather spend it on electricity, built their own solar panels, build an ice skating ring in every town or whatever.

  • African energy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @06:23AM (#54962985)

    I hope that Africa create a lot of energy ... for africans.
    Yeah... europeans could enjoy that massive energy though lines, but it's better that we raise african life quality instead to move the wealth to Europe and later have a lot of african migration into Europe.

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      So, let us know when there are African customers who can pay for the power at a rate high enough to make back the capital outlays to build the plant.

      -jcr

    • Re:African energy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tranzistors ( 1180307 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @07:53AM (#54963425)

      instead to move the wealth to Europe

      How is this moving wealth to Europe? If Europe is paying for use of land, then this is transfer of wealth from Europe to Tunisia. It is an energy transfer to Europe, but unless Tunisia is using that energy (or the land, where that energy is falling on) for themselves, they are not losing anything (economically).

    • This is foolishness. Local barter economies do not lead to increased wealth. Obviously as the local area increases in wealth due to the influx in jobs people can then chose whether to use more electricity.

      Why do some areas with increased foreign investment become shanty towns (see Mexico) because 1000s of people without jobs flock there hoping to get a job themselves or make money selling things to those with those foreign jobs.
  • Because the region around the Sahara is so peaceful and Euro-friendly nowadays.
  • Desertec reborn? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 4im ( 181450 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @07:24AM (#54963271)

    This sounds quite like Desertec [wikipedia.org], or at least a small variant or part thereof.

    I'd hope for such a project to bring some more stability to the region, if it ever goes anywhere.

    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      It has been approved by the Desertec foundation.

    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      This sounds quite like Desertec [wikipedia.org], or at least a small variant or part thereof.

      I'd hope for such a project to bring some more stability to the region, if it ever goes anywhere.

      That was my thought, as I'd stumbled across the Desertec project years ago & thought it was worthwhile but unlikely given the political realities. It would be good for that region to have some other source of power / revenue than petrodollars.

  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @07:25AM (#54963275) Homepage
    An extremely good, and free, e-book on climate change recommended this solution in 2008. The author, David MacKay, was the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (UK).

    Here's the book - I thoroughly recommend it: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air [withouthotair.com].

    It attempts a quantative approach to determining whether particular alternative sources of energy are useful and sustainable or not. It's a short read, politics free (neither "bah, it's all a hoax!" nor "do this immediately or DIE!") and is definitely worth the time of anyone interested in the subject.
  • For Europe to put itself at the mercy of vulnerable infrastructure transmitting energy across a volatile region would be crazy.

    We need to be looking at solar/wind/etc technologies as ways to eliminate fragile national electric grids and to move to locally supplied power.
    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      For Europe to put itself at the mercy of vulnerable infrastructure transmitting energy across a volatile region would be crazy.

      What do you think oil and gas supply is now, if not "vulnerable infrastructure transmitting energy across a volatile region"? This is a *diversification* and therefore a lowering of risk, in the European energy supply mix.

  • by EquisTango ( 4868805 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @08:12AM (#54963541)
    Does "European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert" sound ok to you? Just a reminder that the Sahara desert is not in Europe. The statement shows how powerful countries use and make inconsult decisions about undeveloped countries.
    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      FFS. The press release cited here is entitled "TuNur files for authorisation for 4.5GW solar export project". The very first line of the release states that the authorisation being sought would be granted by the Tunisian Ministry of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy. The land is owned by El Ghrib Collective Lands Management Board and is being leased by TuNur, not owned.

      Yes, this may be a resource curse, but it's not being set up as one.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @08:24AM (#54963591)

    There is a reason why we have power plants spread across the world vs 1 or 2 really big ones in every country. It is getting the power produced from the plant going to the homes. A lot of that energy is already being turned into heat and sound just from the resistance of the cables. Sure smart grids, help the problem, but it doesn't solve the problem.
    That is why I much prefer local energy production, solar panels and or wind turbine with battery backup on your home, perhaps with a small grid shared with your neighbors. While the cost may be higher, it offers a degree of freedom in your living, and you can mostly keep or sell the energy that you don't use. Vs. hooked up to a grid of either noticeable hanging cables, or having crews dig up your yard and regulations to make sure you can't dig in your own property. And if you don't pay your bill your power gets cut off, placing you in a situation where you cant make more money.

    If we could Green Energy could probably fit well in a conservative agenda, if we could get big oil and the religious extremists out of the picture.

  • We're still burning coal. It's because power utilities cannot fathom charging for something that just has a sunk cost. But wait, they already do. All the outside plant and even the generators and burners are sunk costs.
  • Wait a darn minute (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @08:48AM (#54963731)

    I thought with all the renewable energy Europe is supposed to be producing, they were going to be completely green in just a few years. You mean they're going to have to get energy from North Africa in order to keep from freezing to death?

    • Grid stability requires diverse sources of energy. Cheaper to do solar-thermal in the Sahara than PV+batteries in Germany, although the two are not mutually exclusive.

  • It's too bad nobody is working on "cold panels" because they would work a lot better in Canada compared to solar panels.

  • Seems like you could put a vast array of solar panels in several places throughout Europe where cloud cover is minimal, like Greece or Spain. Surely these countries would be amenable to adding those new jobs and and are much more politically stable and secure than anywhere in north Africa, making this big investment far less risky.

    Once Europe's solar farms are profitable, their success will encourage that economic model to spread and attract investment elsewhere, even where security and infrastructure is l

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2017 @10:31AM (#54964621)

    That could power three Deloreans!

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