The Sahara is literally overflowing with energy: within a few hours, photovoltaic cells can harvest more electricity there than humanity uses in a year. Unfortunately, so far this energy is only available regionally, as an early 2000s project to import the electricity to Europe failed. Now British entrepreneur Simon Morrish wants to pick up the loose thread again and transport solar energy by submarine cable from a gigantic PV farm to Great Britain.
26 terawatt hours are expected to flow to the UK each year
The solar power plant is to cover an area four times the size of Vienna, making it a huge project. The company Xlinks has already leased the 1,500 square kilometers in the Moroccan region of Guelmim-Oued Noun. The plant now being built there would have a capacity of 7 gigawatts, plus an additional 3.5 gigawatts from a wind farm on the coast. Every year, 26 terawatt hours of green electricity must flow from Morocco to Great Britain, but without Morocco getting anything from it.
However, the North African country is already making great strides away from fossil fuels. By 2030, the state wants to generate more than half of its energy from photovoltaic energy, its policy is approaching the 1.5 degree target. The new project will also create factories and jobs in Morocco, where batteries, PV modules and turbines will be manufactured and maintained.
Simon Morrish dreamed of the power of the Sahara as a teenager
About 20 years ago there was a similar attempt, when huge solar thermal power plants in the desert were supposed to generate electricity for Europe. The venture failed because the planned system was far too complex. Simon Morrish as a teenager dreamed of importing solar energy from the Sahara before the turn of the millennium and is sure that his new start has better omens. Back then, one megawatt hour of solar energy cost $180 to produce, today you can produce the same amount for 12.
A powerful deep-sea cable takes care of the transport
But how does all that harvested energy end up in the UK? Not via the existing networks, which Morrish says are not designed for such transports. The entrepreneur would like to lay a direct line under the sea, about 3,800 meters long and of his own making. For this he wants to use high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines with extremely low energy losses. This requires the creation of 900 jobs in Hunterston, Scotland, plus 10,000 new jobs in Morocco, 2,000 of which are long-term.
If this project actually succeeds, it will break three world records simultaneously: it will be the largest solar park, connected to the longest deep-sea power cable, with the most powerful battery storage ever. The battery should keep the electricity flowing for 20 hours a day. All in all it will cost 21 billion euros – a high price that is worth it – if it works.