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Tunisia: Tunisia to Energize Europe

2012/01/29

 

 

 Tunisia to Energize Europe

In the desert of Southern Tunisia, a group of renewable energy entrepreneurs, NUR Energie Ltd, and their Tunisian joint venture partner, Top Oilfield Services, are creating what may just be the majority ambitious solar power renewable energy project to date. Along with the endorsement of the Desertec Foundation, NUR Energie has launched the TuNur project to export solar energy from North Africa to Europe, linking Tunisia to Italy via a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Cable and into the Italian electricity grid in order to supply a constant 2,000 MW of electricity. When completed, TuNur is set to be the world's major solar energy project. And with the menacing reality of climate change, limited traditional energy reserves and memories of recent nuclear and oil disasters, renewable energy is no longer the choice of idealists, but a simple necessity. We as a human race cannot afford to not go full speed ahead with projects such as this.

What is so unique about this project is that it is a true South-North collaboration which is taking a profound look at not only the socioeconomic benefits the collaboration can bring (the TuNur projects that the project will create an estimated 20,000 much needed jobs in Tunisia), but as well taking into consideration environmental impacts which have affected the technology chosen (CSP solar) and the in general design of the project. In order to not add to the desertification process, TuNur will make use of very little water and will recycle in a closed system the steam produced by the process of the array of mirrors reflecting sunlight to a tower storage unit thereby turning the Sahara into a resource which can drive both the local economies inclunding satisfy growing request for low carbon electricity.

Unlike other ambitious projects, where idealism, high costs and bad timing, came before the practical realities of setting up massive solar pipelines, NUR Energie's TuNur project arrives right on time. The combination of the horrific incident at Fukushima which forced Germany and other European nations to either decide to phase out nuclear energy and the increasing need to meet EU guidelines on renewables in the years approaching, means that TuNur's ability to make up for what will be an increased request is being recognized by the likes of the World Bank, the European Commission. Other entities which stand to gain from this initiative include Brightsource Energy Inc (who was represented in Tunis by former ambassador to Morocco, Tom Riley) and the Tunisian people themselves. The TuNur project will not simply be supplying electricity to Europe, but will as well be providing industrial and economic development to the local community.

Perhaps of the majority interesting and positive outcomes of most of NUR Energie's projects is how they are working hand in hand with those from the oil industry to make use of another's knowledge and skills, inclunding combining assets, even converting polluting industries and their waste, into renewable energy locales. This rising from the ashes approach is not only realistic, but as well the best way to bring the additional traditional energy sector (with its 8 trillion USD annual turnover and a lot of hundreds of millions of subsidies) to the renewable energy table.

Kevin Sara, the CEO of NUR Energie Ltd, said something to me at the conference in Tunis (hosted by the British ambassador, Chris O'Connor) which resonated with my own Texas background and understanding of the oil industry when he asserted that, "Renewable energy folks are energy people, unlike the electrical utility types because we capture the source energy so we are additional like the oil industry than the electric industry. People in the oil industry know how to take risks and build large infrastructure projects in hostile natural environments."

Thus it makes sense to work with the likes of "wildcatters" and the private oil sector in Tunisia. Converting both the oil industry and phasing out nuclear is not easy, precisely because the economics created by recent disasters, such as Fukushima and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, entail massive cleanup projects which will last, in some cases decades, and bring in revenues to what are usually subsidiaries of the very kinds of companies which helped create the disasters in the first place.

The likes of Tunisia and Morocco (another locale where NUR Energie is setting up solar projects along with Greece, France and Italy) are not only growing economically and demographically, these nations are finding themselves rated higher than much-troubled Spain and Greece. The deep need for employment and an increasingly well-educated workforce is a major focus of discussion in Tunisia which is already in discussions about how best to train those who will educate the next generations of the renewable energy workforce. TuNur Ltd's CEO in Tunisia will be Dr Till Stenzel, who is looking forward to "... working closely with the Tunisian authorities, inclunding European utilities and governments" to make sure this project happens, and meets amount of its ambitious, from now on very much needed goals. Dr. Stenzel adds that TuNur is, "... natural production on an industrial scale."

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