André Merlin, President of MEDGRID, has asked European countries to make appropriate decisions for the future of renewable energy production. The difference in the cost of electricity produced by solar energy in the southern Mediterranean and northern Europe will be one to five. The cost of 1 MWh of solar energy could cost 40 Euros on the southern shore of the Mediterranean compared to the 200 Euros it costs in Germany or the Baltic countries. According to some estimates, the German option to gradually replace nuclear power with renewable energy has led to an increase of 50 Euros per kWh of renewable energy to the original price which negatively affects investors and consumers, especially in a time of economic recession. Merlin pointed to the possibility that the feasibility studies of the electrical interconnection plan between the southern and northern Mediterranean (2020-2030) will be completed within a year or a year and a half.
The technical feasibility studies revolve around submarine cables to transport electricity at a depth of two meters which requires special corridors for the networks. There are three corridors, one between Spain and Morocco, one between Algeria, Tunisia and Libya in the south and Italy on the north shore, and a third through Turkey which could become a crucial step in the crossing of networks and energy products. The feasibility studies also consider the economic returns of the electricity projects from a renewable energy source in the southern Mediterranean which will be transported to the European markets. Currently, only one electricity link is operational which, in addition, goes in the opposite direction, i.e. from north to south, that of Spain-Morocco. The feasibility studies also focus on the legal and technological aspects (how to store excess production or the technical characteristics of the connections) and the issue of funding sources. During a meeting of MEDGRID held last weekend in Brussels, Merlin reminded the audience of the enormous potential of the Maghreb countries to generate solar power and export it to European markets. Northern Africa has vast geographical areas unsuitable for living which have sun most of the day and where any number of solar panels can be installed to produce energy at very low costs compared with the costs in the European markets. According to Merlin, production prices differ depending on the energy source and the area. In the European markets a megawatt hour in coal plants reaches 40 Euros, in nuclear power plants between 70 and 80 Euros and in wind farms between 80 and 90 Euros. The price per megawatt hour of renewable energy in North Africa could be around 40 Euros which forces the European Union to choose and adopt appropriate future policies. According to the studies carried out, the electrical interconnections could transport between 3,000 and 4,000 MW from the south to the north of the Mediterranean and the project could have a total cost of between 3,000 and 4,000 million Euros.
Libya has expressed interest in joining the MEDGRID project. During his meeting with Merlin, the Electricity Minister of Libya, Ali Mohammed Mihirig said that the Libyan authorities have set up power plants again at a cost of 800 million Euros, and plan for renewable energy to cover 20% of Libya’s total energy consumption. The country has already begun the construction of two solar plants and a wind farm. Libya, according to this official, has oil reserves of 50,000 million barrels and there are areas in which this prospection work has not yet begun.
The MEDGRID feasibility studies project started in Paris in the autumn of 2010 and is made up of twelve companies, most of which are large European companies like France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens. The project is part of the Mediterranean solar plan which intends to promote the use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy, in the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, and envisages the production of 20GW in the first phase (2020) of which 5GW would be exported to Europe. Morocco has initiated advanced projects to produce solar energy and meet the growing energy demand in a country that has no fossil fuel sources. According to the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, electricity consumption increases at a rate of 8%, i.e. twice the country’s average economic growth. This consumption exerts great pressure on the networks and existing power plants especially during commercial and domestic peak hours. Solar plants will help reduce this pressure during three hours at a cost of $0.2 per kilowatt hour. At the end of this month, Morocco adopted the GMT +1 hours to have 16 hours of light a day. The country produces 6,700 MW of hydropower and is setting new standards in the construction sector so that the use of solar energy surpasses 30%.