Can North Africa satisfy Europe's solar energy needs?

23 November 2009

Gerhard Knies, TREC Coordinator and Chair of the Supervisory Board, DESERTEC Foundation, said deserts will be able to satisfy humankind’s energy needs, cope with the challenges from an increase in world population, keep the rise in temperature to 2˚C and devise a CO2 exit strategy. It is technically feasible to harness energy from deserts and distribute it through super grids, with just an estimated 10% energy loss.

Solar thermal power technology can store heat and transmit power 24 hours per day, and deserts can produce as much energy in six hours as humanity uses in one year, all for a total investment of around €80 billion.

Jean-Philippe Denruyter, Manager, global renewable energy policy at WWF International, welcomed the DESERTEC initiative as it will help meet future clean energy needs, mitigate climate change and bring the EU and North Africa closer together. However, it needs the right energy policies in host countries and assurances that host countries also benefit from the technology.

In searching for funds, the World Bank clean technology fund could help host countries reduce electricity consumption, and fossil fuel subsidies should be transferred to renewables.

Olivier Silla, Deputy Head of Unit ‘International energy relations, Enlargement’ in the European Commission’s Transport and Energy Directorate-General said North Africa also needs to satisfy its own solar energy, as its energy demand is set to double over the next 15-20 years. Europe might be able to meet its own solar energy needs in other ways, for example with Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), and, given the existing transmissions cost and regulatory frameworks, there are unlikely to be large solar energy exports to Europe by 2020.

George Brodach, Senior Vice President of ABB Europe, confirmed that technically North Africa could provide enough solar energy to Europe, but Europe needs to diversify its energy sources, and European companies need to get export orders for this technology to meet future competition from Asia and the Pacific.

The target is for solar energy from North Africa to cover 15% of Europe’s energy needs by 2030 and this will also improve living standards in the region. The investment required is far less than that used to rescue Europe’s banks or to buy military equipment.