Huge £35bn supergrid
would pool green sources
· Brown and Sarkozy back north African plan
Jha, science correspondent
A tiny rectangle superimposed on the vast expanse
of the Sahara captures the seductive appeal of the audacious plan to cut
Europe's carbon emissions by harnessing the fierce power of the desert
| Much of the cost would come in developing
the public grid networks of connecting countries in the southern Mediterranean,
which do not currently have the spare capacity to carry the electricity
that the north African solar farms could generate. Even if high voltage
cables between North Africa and Italy would be built or the existing cable
between Morocco and Spain would be used, the infrastructure of the transfer
countries such as Italy and Spain or Greece or Turkey also needs a major
re-structuring, according to Jaeger-Walden.
Southern Mediterranean countries including Portugal and Spain have already invested heavily in solar energy and Algeria has begun work on a vast combined solar and natural gas plant which will begin producing energy in 2010. Algeria aims to export 6,000 megawatts of solar-generated power to Europe by 2020.
Scientists working on the project admit that it would take many years and huge investment to generate enough solar energy from north Africa to power Europe but envisage that by 2050 it could produce 100 GW, more than the combined electricity output from all sources in the UK, with an investment of around €450bn.
Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, welcomed the proposals: "Assuming it's cost-effective, a largescale renewable energy grid is just the kind of innovation we need if we're going to beat climate change."
Jaeger-Walden also believes that scaling up solar PV by having large solar farms could help bring its cost down for consumers. "The biggest PV system at the moment is installed in Leipzig and the price of the installation is €3.25 per watt,' he said. 'If we could realise that in the Mediterranean, for example in southern Italy, this would correspond to electricity prices in the range of 15 cents per kWh, something below what the average consumer is paying."
The vision for the renewable energy grid comes as the commission's joint research centre (JRC) published its strategic energy technology plan, highlighting solar PV as one of eight technologies that need to be championed for the short- to medium-term future.
"It recognises something extraordinary - if we don't put together resources and findings across Europe and we let go the several sectors of energy, we will never reach these targets," said Giovanni de Santi, director of the JRC, also speaking in Barcelona.
The JRC plan includes fuel cells and hydrogen, clean coal, second generation biofuels, nuclear fusion, wind, nuclear fission and smart grids. De Santi said it was designed to help Europe to meet its commitments to reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020, while reducing CO² emissions by 20% in the same time and increasing to 20% the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources.