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Sahara Solar to Rescue UK's Power Needs

Updated: May 7, 2022

This isn't a fanciful plan, it's actually happening very soon.

Within five years, the world’s longest undersea cable will link Devon, in south west England, to a vast territory of solar panels in the Sahara Desert, supplying electricity directly into Britain’s grid at a fraction of today’s power prices.

A second cable will land two years later in 2029. Together they will provide 3.6 gigawatts (GW) of constant baseload power, equivalent to two Hinkley-sized nuclear reactors. That's roughly enough juice to power 2.7 million homes and, importantly, it will be much, much cheaper. The price is likely to be £48 per megawatt hour, compared to £93 for a Hinkley - or compared to around £240 at today's wholesale prices.

The £16bn Xlinks Morocco-UK Power Project also has a further elegant feature. It combines wind and solar in perfect geographic circumstances to make near-constant power for 20 hours a day.

Xlinks will be a park of 580 square miles south of Agadir, picked because it is at the top of the global horizontal irradiance index. The yield is three times higher than in the UK and, unlike the UK, the sun even shines for 10 hours a day in winter.

The power will reach Britain through a pair of high-voltage direct current cables developed by XLCC in Glasgow using British-made steel and laid by specially designed ships that will make the UK the world leader in undersea cable technology.

Map depicting the sub-sea cable route from Morocco to England
Subsea connection will bring power 2,360 miles from Morocco to Devon. Credit: XLinks

It will run along the seabed for 2,360 miles. This is four times more than the North Sea link to Norway, currently the world’s longest, which has just come into service on schedule and €300m under budget. It will be built by the same team.

Such long cables would have leaked too much power to be viable in the past, but modern tech has shaved the total loss to 15pc (including the conversion of electricity at both ends) and this loss rate is expected to fall even further very soon.

Along with the expedited plans for a series of mini-nuclear reactors to be built in the UK by Rolls Royce, the country's near-future energy needs (and energy security) are looking pretty solid and, better yet, available at reasonable prices.

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