Over the past several years much has been written about the significant potential for solar energy generation in the Middle East and North Africa, where there is no shortage of sunshine. The International Energy Agency estimated that the potential from concentrated solar power technology alone could amount to 100 times the electricity demand of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe combined.
In the wake of commitments at the Paris climate conference (COP21), it is time to develop this rich source of low-carbon energy sitting close to Europe’s southern shores, and bolster efforts to agree on a framework to import clean, sustainable energy from North Africa.
As recently as 2012 there have been efforts to adopt a framework that would allow importing renewable energy from Morocco to Germany—through France and Spain—but electricity trade between countries typically becomes reality when there are economic benefits for all sides. Electricity trade has the added benefit of fostering closer political ties.
Expanding regional trade between North Africa and Europe has also been hindered by inadequate physical electrical connections between the two continents and poor physical integration in European electricity grids. There is currently only one electrical transmission interconnection between North Africa and Europe, namely the Morocco-Spain connection. Further, Spain’s interconnection with the rest of Europe is limited, with no new transmission projects undertaken to expand this capacity for the past three decades. At the same time, Spain had excess generation capacity because of the economic downturn experienced in Europe over the past several years. That made impractical the notion of allowing North African renewable energy into the Spanish market. Italy, another potential electricity gateway from North Africa, was in a similar situation.