It's been reported this week that major investors are seeking funding from the UK Government for plans to import solar energy from North Africa. If it sounds ambitious, that's because it is, and up to 2.5 million homes could be powered by African sunshine by 2018. What does this mean for the overall energy picture in the UK? And how will it affect bill payers in this country?
The main company involved claim that they have already spent over 10 million euros getting plans developed and getting the word out about the so called 'TurNur Project'. If it goes ahead, it'll bring two gigawatts of clean solar power to the UK from Tunisia - but first, they have to win a CfD (Contract for Difference - more on that in a second) from the UK Government.
How much energy is 2 gigawatts?
To give you an idea of the scope of the project, and how much energy will be 'imported' from Tunisian sun, 2 gigawatts is roughly the output of one very large power plant, enough to provide energy for a couple million homes at least. For those who are unsure about nuclear, and are still undecided on the rapid adoption of windfarms or solar panels in our countryside, it's a nice middleground and should really go a long way in helping our 'energy mix' - that is, the combination we'll be using over the next couple of decades and long into the future to power our homes and keep our lights on.
What is a Contract for Difference, and why is it needed?
In a nutshell, a Contract for Difference is a subsidy or financial award that various projects and companies can compete for in order to go ahead with a project. It's a way for companies to get funding for ambitious renewable energy projects if they can prove their worth and their practicality. The 10 million Euros spent so far will have gone a long way to ensuring that the word got out about the project and to illustrate how successful it can be. Contracts for Difference (CfDs) are proactive way for the UK Government to encourage renewable energy investment too - it's basically them throwing money in the pot to help investors make the UK greener, and creating a competitive environment to get the best projects in the spotlight. What do you think about CfD's? A good way to bring the UK up to scratch going into the next generation?
What the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have to say
The DECC are the department in Government who monitor and issue CfDs. They must be keen to bring about some new and exciting energy projects as they recently passed a new rule which allows developers of energy projects who are not based in the UK to bid for contracts that guarantee subsidies to supply power. This essentially broadens the scope for UK energy generation, and has the potential to draw in a lot more funding.
Wait... How will this work?
It's true... Tunisia is a long way away. But using CSP technology (concentrated solar power), developers can effectively 'store' the energy on site - like you would in a battery for instance - and then 'dispatch' it where it is needed. This also means it can be switched on and off on demand, making for much less wasted energy. It also helps the UK with it's energy capacity problem, meaning we'll have a small reservoir to draw from should we suddenly see a surge in demand.
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