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Trouble in Gaza Dashes Solar Dreams

North African solar energy plans put on hold.
March 23, 2009

Plans for massive solar energy development in North Africa became “collateral damage” of the war in Gaza this winter and won’t restart for at least another month, according to French newspaper Le Monde (article en Français).

Mahmoud Abbas, Sarkozy and Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert launching the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008

The 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean, which includes Muslim nations such as Egypt and Algeria as well as Israel and the Palestinian Authority, adopted solar energy development as its keynote project last summer. And last fall the European Commission endorsed the need for a high voltage DC supergrid to share the resulting clean energy with Europe. Planning froze in late December, however, after Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza in response to rocket fire. Participation of Muslim countries in a partnership with Israel – a coup for French President Nicolas Sarkozy when he launched the Union for the Mediterranean last summer – became politically untenable as Gaza crumbled.

It is not the only setback for the vision of uniting Europe and North Africa with trade in renewable energy. The Mediterranean Ring, a pre-existing effort to electrically-interconnect all of Europe and North Africa via AC lines, has also been put off. Once again.

Transmission lines laid across Gibraltar in the 1990s connected Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to the giant European power grid via Spain. The next step in sending this synchronous AC connection around the Mediterranean is to connect Tunisia and Libya, which is already linked to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. A test of this extension failed in 2005 when power fluxes overloaded weak lines in Morocco and Algeria.

Now a second try tentatively scheduled for next month will likely be postponed until October, according to Juan Manuel Rodriguez Garcia, international liaison for Spanish grid operator Red Eléctrica de España. Garcia says weather delays slowed upgrades to Morocco’s lines and the interconnection test will thus miss a window of opportunity before summer heat sets in, air conditioning picks up and power demand rises.

Here’s to hoping that diplomats across the region make good use of that air conditioning. Without North Africa’s solar energy, coal will remain king in many European countries for some time.

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