TuNur seeking to provide UK with North African solar power

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TuNur, a joint venture between British renewables investor Low Carbon, developer Nur Energy and Tunisian investors, is looking for funding from the U.K. government to export to Britain solar energy generated in North Africa.

According to BBC News, the company’s plan could power up 2.5 million U.K. homes with Tunisian-generated solar power by 2018. TuNur says it has already spent €10 million to develop the site in southern Tunisia. TuNur’s plans revolve around concentrated solar power (CSP) technology.

TuNur is aiming to offer up to 2 GW of solar capacity for the U.K. if the company wins a contract for difference (CFD) from the British government, according to the BBC report.

Under new regulations introduced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), developers of renewable energy project that are not based in the U.K. are allowed to bid for contracts that guarantee subsidies. The BBC points out that the Tunisian parliament has also passed legislation facilitating the export of the energy. The country has also signed an agreement with the Italian network operator to connect a dedicated undersea cable to a substation near Rome.

"This is not a back-of-the-envelope fantasy," Kevin Sara, chief executive of TuNur told BBC News, adding that the company was working with some of the largest engineering firms in the world and stressing that, “This is a serious project."

While the TuNur plan resembles that of the now defunct Desertec initiative, Sara says the difference is that TuNur is trying to realize “a singular project,” whereas Desertec was “an industrial consortium that was trying to develop an idea."

TuNur was actually an associate member of the Desertec consortium for several years but eventually withdrew from the group, Sara sold the BBC, adding that the initiative wasn’t “really going anywhere” and that the management turmoil wasn’t helping TuNur’s cause.

Desertec launched in 2009 with the aim of generating and transmitting solar and wind energy from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe as of 2020 and providing up to 15% of Europe’s power by 2050 at a cost of some €400 billion ($507 billion). Yet political instability in the region and conflicting goals among initial Desertec partners hampered the initiative’s development. Most of the original shareholders of the Desertec consortium — which included the likes of ABB, Abengoa Solar, Enel Green Power, First Solar and SMA — pulled out of the enterprise last week.

While the U.K. government is open to energy projects outside the EU, it is not exactly embracing the Tunisian plan, the BBC notes.

"In order to reduce costs for British consumers, any future non-U.K. project would need to compete on cost effectiveness with projects in the UK before being allocated a contract for difference," a DECC spokesperson told BBC News. "This means that British consumers get the best deal, no matter where the electricity is generated."

The project is also unlikely to get much support from the U.K. solar industry, which is opposed to the idea of importing renewable energy from foreign sources.