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Giant solar power plant to tap Sahara sunshine


15th August, 2008

Algeria switches from oil production to harnessing the power of the Sahara sun

Algeria has started work on the first of four industrial-scale hybrid gas and solar plants with the aim of producing 6% of the country’s energy from renewable electricity by 2015.

The plant, the first project to combine gas and steam turbines with solar thermal input, is located 260 miles away from Algiers at Hassi R’Mel, and will generate 25 MW from solar thermal alone.

Algeria’s renewables targets falls well short of those set by the EU, which aims to produce 20% of its electricity from renewables - renewables are currently responsible for 0.5% of world energy production.

However, this plans marks one of the first major moves towards renewables by an oil exporting country. Algeria is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, which earned it about $54 billion last year. Wolfgang Palz, chairman of the independent World Council for Renewable Energy, told delegates at an international conference on renewable energy in Algiers that: "Until now, all the oil-producing countries under the lead of Saudi Arabia did everything to torpedo renewable energies."

Although a move in the right direction, the new plants produce 125 MW of their 150 MW total capacity from natural gas, a fossil fuel; they will not be economically competitive for ten years; and there is no confirmed investor for a project to supply energy to Western Europe via undersea cables by 2010 – 2012.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007


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