One of Europe’s most demanding future challenges will be to find an answer how to address the increasing energy demand without harming the environment. Renewable Energy could offer sustainable solutions to these challenges at a stroke as climate change, energy supply and energy security are all linked together. Especially solar energy would perfectly balance the triangle of security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability which provides the most positive outcome.
The neighbouring Southern Mediterranean Partner Countries dispose of vast solar power resources which could tackle Europe’s most pressing issues and can at the same time fix complementary issues in the Mediterranean region such as the energy poverty, socioeconomic development and efficiency. In the MED region the growth of population and economy will lead to a rising demand. The energy demand may increase by 65% before 2025, as a result of the influence of population growth and the increase in demand associated with economic development according to Plan Bleu. By 2050, the electricity demand will almost triple and will achieve an electricity demand in the same order of magnitude as Europe.
In order to gain control over the energy demand, energy constraints and CO2 emissions, there is a necessity to enforce Renewable Energy on a large scale. The share of Renewables in the primary energy supply are under-exploited in the region and were only representing about 3% of the MED energy consumption.
The Mediterranean Solar Plan and DESERTEC
In the Euro-Mediterranean Relations energy issues have become more central when at the 5th EMP Ministerial Conference on Energy the partners established a Priority Action Plan 2008-2013 that contains measures covering a wide area of energy related subjects. The new created Union for the Mediterranean aims to give renewed vigour to Europe’s relationship with its southern neighbours and let arise a fresh opportunity for cooperation on energy issues and climate change. The Union’s intention is to increase collaboration with North Africa on energy issues and to place greater focus on Renewables through EU development policy. The UfM will integrate existing Euro-MED policies in various fields, and several ongoing regional programmes will be continued or established. At the core of the UfM are several projects in the field of solar energy cooperation are envisaged among them the ambitious Mediterranean Solar Plan.
The Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) was endorsed at the Paris Summit on 13-14 July 2008. The MSP is expected to develop 20 GW in order to satisfy the increasing energy demand. Additionally, it should support an integrated renewable market for the EU-MED region. At the Summit it was concluded that “market deployment as well as research and development of all alternative sources of energy are a major priority in efforts towards assuring sustainable development”. (Joint declaration) The principal issue is the high costs of the MSP of about 80 billion Euros. The Neighbourhood Investment Facility, amounting from 2007-2013 over 700 million Euro for transport, energy, environment, and the social and private sector, and the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment, with 32 million Euro per year for 2007-2013 via the EIB, are not enough to implement these high cost projects.
The political and financial problems could open the door for the German initiative Desertec, a private sector consortium, which proposes a system approach enhancing 40 GW. Desertec is outside of the UfM what makes it a more flexible project which can rely on willing partner countries without having to cooperate multilaterally. Desertec’s Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Plants (CSP-Plants) are a new technology which present features particularly suited to the regional context as they can generate power all the time, deliver power on demand whenever it is required and can be installed in isolated semi-desert grounds. (Desertec) The goal of the Desertec project is to achieve a competitive, secure and compatible supply of electricity within the integrated EU-MED region up to the year 2050. However, next to the enormous high investment costs of about 400 Billion Euros, the Desertec project will also be dependent on the same technical and political issues
Prospects of a Solar Plan strategy
The Lisbon Treaty have finally ensured that the EU "speaks with one voice" on external issues. This prospect and the actual Spanish EU-presidency could strengthen the role of cooperation between the shores from which both the European countries and their partners from the southern shore have a lot to gain. In May 2010, Spain will host in Valencia a conference regarding Mediterranean projects of renewable energies. It is suggested to convene a Euro-med Energy Ministerial to advance the integration of energy markets in the region and take note of progress in implementing concrete solar projects. In addition, the project "Paving the Way for the Mediterranean Solar Plan", expected to start soon in the first of half of 2010, shall progress the establishment of a harmonised legislative and regulatory framework in the Euro-Mediterranean region favourable to large-scale renewable energy adoption and use, renewable electricity trade, energy efficiency and energy savings and improvements in intra- and inter-regional knowledge transfer.
A successful solar cooperation, either through the MSP or Desertec, might bring stability and promote the development of the North African economies, assumed that a share of power generated will remain in the MED region. Anyway which project will become reality, a close cooperation between the EU and the Mediterranean in renewable energy could create a win-win situation for both in terms of security of supply, economical benefits and climate change mitigation. However, this requires a simultaneous focus on all technical, political, legal and financial challenges. The implementation of all necessary measures might take at least two decades to become effective, what calls for the quick introduction of the necessary policies.
Plan Bleu: Environment and Development in the Mediterranean
Valencia Mediterranean Solar Plan Conference
EU's External Energy Policy