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  • on 30.04.2010
  • at 12:35 PM
  • by Staff

North Africa finally sees the light 1

Europe’s appetite for renewable energy and a shifting tide in domestic energy policies could turn North Africa into major exporter of solar power by the end of the decade.

“North Africa has all the right ingredients for producing the cheapest kilowatt hour of solar energy,” says Amr Mohsen, CEO of Lotus Solar Technologies, a Cairo-based solar technology firm. “We’re finally starting to see conditions align for harnessing this potential.”

Small projects using photovoltaic (PV) panels are moving ahead rapidly, but work has been slow on large concentrated solar power (CSP) projects that experts say are needed to overcome the region’s dependence on fossil fuels.

CSP projects use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat, and produce steam that drives electrical generators. The technology is scalable and without the high capital costs associated with large-scale PV deployment.

The first CSP projects in North Africa are expected to begin operation by the end of the year. Algeria’s 150 MW power plant at Hassi R’Mel is scheduled to go online in October, followed by Egypt’s 140 MW plant at Kureimat and Morocco’s 450 MW plant at Ain Beni Mathar.

The three integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power stations will feed steam generated by a solar field into the stream of a gas-fired plant to drive a turbine that produces electricity. The hybrid design was selected because the shared turbine and equipment lowers capital costs, while the gas-fired unit compensates for fluctuating power output from the solar arrays, which generate electricity only during daylight hours.

Critics charge that the low solar fraction — between four and 15 percent — undermines the value of these projects as commercial models. Officials counter that successful operation will pave the way for larger, dedicated solar plants to follow.

“Our (ISCC) plant at Kureimat is a pilot project,” says Khaled Fikry, head of research and development at Egypt’s National Renewable Energy Authority. “We will gain technical experience that we will use to build more power plants that utilise pure solar capacity.”
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Sunny skies and large tracts of underutilised desert land make North Africa an ideal location for low-cost power generation, a 2007 study by the German Aerospace Centre concluded. Harnessing the solar energy falling on just 6,000 square kilometres of desert in North Africa would “supply energy equivalent to the entire oil production of the Middle East of 9 billion barrels a year,” the report said.

European investors have cued in to the region’s untapped potential. Two ambitious schemes envision the construction of a series of solar fields in the Sahara desert that would export surplus electricity to Europe via high voltage transmission lines.

The Desertec project is a 400 billion euro private sector initiative that aims to tap renewable energy sources in North Africa to satisfy 15 percent of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050. Up to 80 percent of the electricity generated, mostly by CSP power stations, would be used by domestic consumers. The remaining 20 percent would be transported to buyers in Europe.

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By Cam McGrath IPS

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  1. Elkasheef Hassan says:

    The renewable energy will be successful in Africa in small scale in the producer of solar cell and other solar product can work with practical and application ergeers and support the experimental small escale project that can turn into profitable industry and help in spreading the simple technologies to the focal where the sun and the land in avaible for such project. It take few projects to start the solar revolution where it needed the most . the under developed countries

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