Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

Africa To Feed Europe’s Energy Appetite

with 9 comments

An article in last Sunday’s Observer (‘How Africa’s desert sun can bring Europe power‘) describes a £5bn plan to generate electricity in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and export it to Europe. More than 100 solar installations, each equipped with an array of thousands of mirrors, would generate enough power to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs.

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is a joint initiative of the Club of Rome, the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation and the National Energy Research Center of Jordan, campaigning for the transmission of clean power from deserts to Europe. TREC has researched and developed the DESERTEC concept in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center. In Brussels on November 28, former Club of Rome president Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan presented a White Paper “Clean Power from Deserts – The DESERTEC Concept for Energy, Water and Climate Security” to members of the European Parliament.

The project aims to exploit cheap desert land using a technique known as ‘Concentrating Solar thermal Power’ (CSP). A CSP installation consists of an array of adjustable mirrors covering around a square kilometre. The mirrors focus the sun’s rays onto a central pillar filled with water. Temperatures inside the pillar rise to 800C, causing the water to be vapourised into superheated steam which is channelled off and used to drive turbines which in turn generate electricity. The residual heat will then be used to power desalination processes to provide fresh water.

White Paper

I found it quite amusing that the Observer can’t tell the difference between CSP and photovoltaics. Or perhaps they just couldn’t find a picture of a CSP site in their archive and thought their readers would be too dumb to notice.

Afterword: Having published this post I went off to do something else, but found myself thinking some more about the TREC scheme. It has interesting political implications if it goes ahead. It seems the next logical step in the process of incorporating North Africa and the Middle East into some kind of Greater Europe. Where will Europe’s southern boundary be redrawn, and how will it be defended? And how will issues of energy supply security be addressed?

I just don’t know.


Written by Pete Smith

December 6, 2007 at 10:51 am

9 Responses

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  1. This concept appears more organised than I realised. Thought it was just pipe dream stuff. Won’t considerable amounts of energy be lost over long distance transmission?

    The EU can (and if Sarkozy has his way, will) develop closer trade pacts with North Africa and possibly the Middle-east but, but their citizens won’t see other benefits such as easier access to EU employment opportunities.

    Interesting article Pete.


    December 6, 2007 at 11:42 am

  2. 10-15% transmission losses they reckon. The TREC summary document shows the full extent of a proposed Euro Super-Grid, which includes all flavours of renewable sources. It shows solar sites in Spain, Sicily and Greece.

    I have no problems with the technological aspects, but doesn’t it seem a bit imperialistic? And how long before some Gaddafi-type decides to pull the plug and use ‘his/their’ solar power for the benefit of the locals? I can feel a Suez moment coming on.

    “Welcome to Fort Stinkin’ Desert”: The Firesign Theatre

    Pete Smith

    December 6, 2007 at 12:15 pm

  3. I have no problems with the technological aspects, but doesn’t it seem a bit imperialistic?

    Hmmm, the resource curse all over again, with the resource in question now being good old sunlight. But the environmental stakes are so high that it seems a risk worth taking; we just have to make sure to give the North African nations a fair deal. In the current political climate it doesn’t look great, but we could be taken by surprise by the emergence of a North African Chavez 😉
    Also, don’t some European nations, especially in the West, have really good wind/wave resources? Obviously the environmental cost can be higher, but it seems likely that off the coasts of, say, Britain and Portugal we’ll be seeing more and more massive windfarms. So why not plug them all into a trans-continental grid, getting some European wind power down to Africa at night?
    I’m surprised transmission costs are so low, but it’s a very encouraging sign.


    December 6, 2007 at 1:51 pm

  4. “the resource in question now being good old sunlight.”

    And land. One of the linked documents emphasises that land is much more expensive in Europe than a patch of stinking desert. Although with Spain and Southern Italy turning into deserts that may change.

    “So why not plug them all into a trans-continental grid?”

    As mentioned above, the proposal is for a Euro super-grid. Whether Europe will get to blow as well as suck is open to question.

    Pete Smith

    December 6, 2007 at 5:02 pm

  5. My first thought was similar to yours Pete that the scheme seemed a bit imperialistic. Yet the Observer report suggests that 100 billion watts of power could be generated of which two thirds would be kept for local use – a powerful incentive not to disrupt the scheme. And they will get the fresh water from the scheme which will become increasingly important. There is the problem of the price though.


    December 6, 2007 at 10:54 pm

  6. If the local nomads aren’t educated as to what these bright shiny things in the desert are they could suffer undue stress. As they come over the sand dunes on their camel and suddenly spot a bright shining object they may mistake this for the second coming, a signal from God.

    When they find out this is something from the ‘west’ they will feel tricked and may choose to ride their camel all the way to Europe in an inspired jihad. Has Cobra been informed?


    December 7, 2007 at 7:05 am

  7. There is a new world wide web emerging right before our eyes. It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy.

    For more information, see


    December 7, 2007 at 6:07 pm

  8. Thanks Michael. Interesting, however the website background of twinkling stars is off-putting to say the least. It gives the impression a global grid maybe ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. I notice that most links are to information presented a few years ago and quite a few organisations are not big household names.


    December 8, 2007 at 3:09 pm

  9. Great info!! hope to definitely come back soon..


    May 21, 2009 at 3:17 am

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