Engineers working in the teeming cities and lonely deserts of North Africa are creating the last links in a power grid that will ring the Mediterranean Sea. Sharing electricity over this ‘Mediterranean Ring’ could secure Europe’s power supply with clean renewable energy, accelerating North Africa’s development and knitting together two worlds that seem to be racing apart — those of Muslim North Africa and an increasingly xenophobic Europe.
We make the case for all this unabashed optimism in Closing the Circuit – a feature story in this month’s issue of Spectrum. Closing the Circuit is the product of two years of on-again, off-again research that came to fruition with on-site reporting in Libya and Morocco this summer.
The timing is fortuitious: North African countries – in many ways among the most progressive in the Muslim world – face a rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism, including increasingly deadly attacks by Al Qaeda-aligned militants. Economic development and democratization are the best hope for a North African renaissance. At the same time Europe’s growing dependence on Russian oil and gas and desire to slash carbon emissions has intensified interest in North Africa’s energy resources.
The scale of the potential exchange is immense: Analyses by the German government estimate that solar power generated in scorching North Africa could meet Germany’s entire electricity demand. No wonder then that the Union for the Mediterranean launched by French president Nicolas Sarkozy this summer to spur cooperation between Europe and North Africa is fleshing out a “Mediterranean solar plan” as one of its first actions.
The geopolitical and social import could be bigger. Consider what Dominique Maillard, President of French grid operator Réseau de Transport de l’Electricité, said when asked last month what the Mediterranean Ring represents during an interview last month for the European Energy Review. Maillard began his response by noting that the electrical interconnections between the European countries got started in 1951 – well before the signing of the Treaty or Paris, which created a European coal and steel market, and before the Treaty of Rome in 1957. “At the dawn of Europe, energy – and even electrical energy – had therefore already preceded politics,” says Maillard.
The implication by extension is clear: Electrical interconnection can be the forerunner for peaceful codevelopment among the countries of the Mediterranean, even including Israel. Call it informed optimism.
This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate
2 thoughts on “Solar PoweRING the Mediterranean”
“an increasingly xenophobic Europe” ?
1. What is the scientific evidence behind such a strong, although unsubstanciated, comment?
2. I would not call this “unabashed optimism ” !
Thanks for the comments Fabrice. I am certainly not alone in my assessment of Europe as increasingly xenophobic. See for example this assessment of the 2004 European Parliament elections by a UK parliamentarian, or this announcement by the EU presidency that “outlawing racism and xenophobia throughout Europe” was back on the EU agenda. Switzerland’s largest party affirmed the EU’s concern last summer when it issued campaign posters calling for immigration reform by depicting “three white sheep kicking out a black sheep over a caption that read ‘for more security'”.
It goes without saying, of course, that many Europeans decry (rather than deny) this turn towards bigotry and exclusion. And that the same trend holds elsewhere — as among those Americans, for example, who sought to demonize Barack Obama as an associate of terrorists.
As for my unabashed optimism, it is for our capacity to reverse the trend, in part, by creating tighter energy connections between Europe and North Africa, including the emerging Mediterranean Ring electric power network.