The UK’s Nur Energie and its partners have applied to Tunisia’s Ministry of Industry & Technology for permits to build the country’s largest solar power project.

The 2,000MW concentrated solar power (CSP) project will use moving reflectors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower at the centre of the site. The solar project will be developed in stages, with the first phase expected to have a capacity of 500-1,000MW. The TuNur project will include thermal storage to maximise the efficiency of the facility.

Nur Energie holds a 50 per cent stake in the project company, while Top Oil Field Services, a consortium of Tunisian oil companies, holds the other 50 per cent. The sponsor group may be expanded at a later date. The sponsors are in talks with companies that have experience of operating large power plants and investors looking for large projects to participate in. The UK’s PricewaterhouseCoopers is advising Nur Energie on the project. 

A site in southern Tunisia has been selected as the preferred location for the project. “We haven’t settled firmly on a supplier [of technology for the project], but we are working on another project, in Greece, and we are working very closely with [the US’] BrightSource Energy and their solution looks applicable in Tunisia too,” says Till Stenzel, chief operating officer, Nur Energie.

Power from the project will be exported to Italy via a designated 600-kilometre subsea cable. A study has been completed by Norway’s Startnet Engineering Company for the subsea cables, which has been followed by a detailed study on the pathway of the cable by UK-based marine specialist Metoc.

According to current plans, all of the power produced by the project is intended to reach the Italian market. However, negotiations are under way to sell some of the power to Tunisian customers. Should the ministry issue permits for the project, TuNur hopes to begin construction of the project in 2014. By 2016, the solar project and transmission lines are scheduled for completion.

Italian technical and engineering services company CESI has confirmed that it will be feasible to inject power into the Italian grid. The price of power is yet to be negotiated, but TuNur hopes to secure a tariff agreement between Tunisia and Italy in a similar framework to that signed by Italy and Serbia in 2011 for a supply tariff of €155 ($205) per MWh.

The project has been endorsed by the Desertec Initiative, a plan to install renewable energy facilities across the Middle East and North Africa region together with transmission lines to southern Europe capable of exporting the power. According to Dr Thiemo Gropp, Director of the Desertec Foundation, the TuNur project is an “excellent realisation of the Desertec project”.

Tunisia has excellent wind and solar resources and has already demonstrated that it can deliver renewable energy projects. It currently has three wind farms in operation at Sidi Daoud, Metline and Kchabte totalling 174MW capacity. There are plans to expand two of the wind farms and build a 45MW integrated combined-cycle solar plant at El-Borma.

Tunisia is also planning a 1,200MW independent power project (IPP) at Elmed, which is to include a thermal power plant, along with a renewable energy component of at least 100MW. The Tunisian Ministry of Industry & Technology has prequalified bidders for the project and is intending to issue a request for proposals by the middle of 2012.

Around 400MW of the project’s capacity will supply the local utility Societe Tunisienne de l’Electricite et du Gaz (Steg). The remaining 800MW will be exported to Italy through an interconnection project that is to be built by Steg, in partnership with Italian company Terna.

As a project that combines renewable power and electricity exports to Italy, TuNur’s plans are therefore similar. However, the TuNur project is not planned to compete with Elmed IPP. “What we are doing is complimentary to Elmed,” says Stenzel.