According to media reports, Morocco is to be the site for the first investment by the Desertec consortium led by German energy firms. We argued earlier this year that the Arab Spring opened up a big opportunity for integrating North African and European energy resources and infrastructures (a shame the UK isn’t showing much interest in this). The obvious question is whether, by shifting from dependence on Russian gas and coal to dependence on North African solar electricity, Europe is not exposing itself to an even greater security of supply risk. After all, while you can store gas and coal, you can’t yet store electricity at scale. Suppose a newly democratic (and Islamist?) Tunisia or Libya decides to close down the interconnectors across the Med?
The answer to this is similar to the answer to the question of why gas supply to Western Europe from Russia has actually been very reliable for 50 years. A consumer of energy need not worry too much about security of supply if its supplier cannot supply anyone else. Russia currently has gas pipelines only to Europe. If it starts building new supply routes to China or India, then Europe should start worrying more seriously. But Russia is heavily dependent on gas and coal revenues from Europe, and especially Germany and Italy. This is why these countries have never had any serious supply interruptions, even throughout the decades of the Cold War.
The electricity relationship with North Africa would be even closer. The proposed concentrated solar power investments in the Sahara would produce more power than local markets would be able to absorb, but would be wired in only to Europe. These will provide valuable new revenue streams to the fledgling democracies now emerging in the region, which they will not be able to get by selling the electricity anywhere else, simply because the infrastructure to do so will not exist. Effectively, in electricity terms, North Africa and Eastern Europe will become one, much as Scotland and England currently are.
One response to “Desertec and energy security”
Terrific website. My spouse and I actually like the idea. Interest articles and other content plus practical details. Thank you.