Tag Archives: environment

African energy, European opportunity

An article from Wednesday’s Guardian outlines a European Union proposal that would see vast solar farms in North Africa power all of Europe with clean energy. From the article:

The scientists are calling for the creation of a series of huge solar farms – producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun’s heat to boil water and drive turbines – as part of a plan to share Europe’s renewable energy resources across the continent.

…The grid proposal, which has won political support from both Nicholas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, answers the perennial criticism that renewable power will never be economic because the weather is not sufficiently predictable. Its supporters argue that even if the wind is not blowing hard enough in the North Sea, it will be blowing somewhere else in Europe, or the sun will be shining on a solar farm somewhere.

Scientists argue that harnessing the Sahara would be particularly effective because the sunlight in this area is more intense: solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in northern Africa could generate up to three times the electricity compared with similar panels in northern Europe.

Exciting news, at first glance. But the fairness of the plan will depend on the eventual energy-sharing arrangement, which the article doesn’t really address: will North Africa be hooked up to Europe’s clean-energy grid, or just be a one-way exporter? Western powers never tire of insisting that developing countries should adhere to emissions-reduction targets – hardly a simple demand for industrializing economies – and here’s a chance for just that. This should be considered an African opportunity to realize that ever-elusive goal, sustainable development. So why is African solar energy Europe’s to take?

The Guardian’s usually-astute international analysis fell far short here. I wonder what an eventual energy deal would look like – it’s not so hard to imagine, as renewables become more widespread and lucrative, the kind of deeply unfair oil law imposed on Iraq refashioned for North Africa’s soon-to-be-profitable solar harvests.

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