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Affordable African Solar Could Power UK Homes by 2018

A mock-up of what the large scale TuNur project could look like.

Renewable energy has found quite the foothold in Africa as of late. Now, one project that could see African energy exported to the UK is looking for funding from the UK’s government.

If the project is successful, 2.5 million UK homes could be powered by Tunisian sunlight by 2018. Called the TunUr project, it aims to bring 2 GW of solar to the UK if the company wins a contract for difference (CfD) from the UK’s government. Under the government’s new rules for energy investing, projects that are based outside of the UK are eligible for subsidies.

The project, which is a partnership between British renewables investor Low Carbon, developer Nur Energy, and Tunisian Investors, has already €10 million spent on developing the site in the southern Tunisian desert. The investments haven’t just come on a whim, though, as three years of solar data has been collected at the site, ensuring it’s the right place for the project.

The Tunisian parliament has also passed legislation to help streamline the export of energy, which included an agreement with an Italian network operator to connect an undersea cable to a substation near Rome that would be dedicated to the projected.

"This is not a back-of-the-envelope fantasy," Kevin Sara, chief executive of TuNur, told BBC News. “We are working with some of the largest engineering firms in the world. This is a serious project. Yes, it is risky like any big energy project is risky. But there is nothing new about moving energy from North Africa to Europe."

The companies involved claim the energy produced will be 20 percent cheaper than sources generated in the UK.
Similar projects have been attempted before, but have been unsuccessful for several reasons, be it lack of support or funding. Sara said that this project is different, since it has a singular focus rather than a broader scope. Still, there’s a little red tape the project needs to clear before it gets the funding needed.

"In order to reduce costs for British consumers, any future non-UK 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."

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