MEDITERRANEAN. On 19 November 2012, the Ouarzazate complex was in motion after receiving its first tranche of funding: €345m of European support (from the EIB, AFD, KfW). This represents half the funding required to implement the solar plant’s first phase, the plant eventually reaching a capacity of 500 megawatts. Part of the electricity produced will then be exported to the European continent. This project, initiated by Masen (Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy) - the first of its kind to emerge in North Africa - has allowed ambitious renewable energy initiatives to emerge from the shadows for the first time.
The Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) is the overarching project. Launched by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in November 2008, the MSP aims to install 20 gigawatt production capacity in the South and Eastern Mediterranean basin by 2020. At its inauguration in 2008, the UfM presented more than sixty pilot projects for photovoltaic panels in a portion of the Sahara. In June 2012, the EIB launched the Mediterranean Solar Plan’s preparatory projects. This opened the way for loans from the European Commission managed Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF) for projects “already at an advanced stage in preparation and where there was high probability of financing and implementation being achieved in good time”.
The German consortium Desertec thus wants to build in the Sahara, with a €400bn investment into solar energy plants - with a capacity of 200 gigawatts over an area of 300km by 300km in order to “meet the world’s energy needs”. The French group Medgrid (formerly Transgreen) is focussing on a high capacity DC electricity transmission network that connects solar or wind plants to areas of consumption on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Ensuring transfer from South to North
These are great projects, at least on paper. Desertec could thus by 2050 be providing 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs.
The challenge remains ensuring safe transfer of the energy produced in the South to the North.
At the moment only one double high voltage DC 1.4 gigawatt power line, passing under the strait of Gibraltar, links the two shores of the Mediterranean. Another electrical interconnection would allow linkage between France and Spain. This first trans-European DC connection uses VSC (Voltage source converter) technology. Put simply, it will allow high speed conversion from AC to DC. Underground and 64.5km in length (31km in Spain and 33.5km in France), from 2015 it will allow a doubling of the electrical capacity exchanged between Spain and the rest of Europe.