Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Greece, North Africa Promote Their Solar Projects

• September 28, 2011 • 4:00 AM

Competing solar projects are vying to supply Germany’s renewable desires, each one trying to push the other into the shade.

If you listen to solar advocates in Europe, the upheavals on this side of the globe — revolutions in North Africa, debt misery in Greece — have only brightened the prospects for solar power. German plans to phase out nuclear power have put at least one large nation in the market for new sources of power, and two would-be providers have sworn that global crises won’t hurt their ambitions. On the contrary — they’ll help! (Just watch out for those other solar salesmen.)

First there’s Greece. Germany’s perennial project to both aid Greece and save the euro might include a deal to buy solar energy from Athens. “Greece has a much higher number of sun hours per year than in Germany,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble explained in August, “and they could export electricity to us.”

The plan crystallized this month after Greek Prime Minister Georges Papandreou met German leaders to discuss ways to spark a Greek recovery. A proposed investment project called “Helios” might create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs in Greece, which badly needs them, and ensure a small stream of electricity for the Germans, who badly need renewable energy.

“We can supply the Germans with 10,000 to 15,000 megawatts,” Papandreou said after the meeting.

By the way, he added, “There was a [solar] project in the Sahara, but it is in jeopardy because of the political turmoil” in North Africa.

This is where it gets funny, because advocates for the North Africa plan — Desertec — will tell you no such thing. Desertec is an ambitious project to install reflective solar heaters in the Sahara. Steam-turbine plants in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt will generate some energy for domestic use but send the rest to Europe via a trans-Mediterranean grid. The Mediterranean grid still has to be built, but a German-led consortium of insurance and power companies has been working on the financing since 2009.

Two of those power-generating nations, Tunisia and Egypt, overturned their governments this year, and that’s a concern for the power-using Europeans. The Arab Spring called Desertec into question — at least from a distance — because it wasn’t clear who would be in charge.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

European Dispatch

EUROPEAN DISPATCH
Michael Scott Moore complements his standing feature in Miller-McCune magazine with frequent posts on the policy challenges and solutions popping up on the other side of the pond.

[/class]

Thiemo Gropp, director of the Desertec foundation, told a German paper in the spring that “so far there has been no obvious setback.” The Tunisian revolution left enough of the relevant officials in place. “The people we’ve dealt with, who helped to advance the solar plans in Tunisia, have actually been strengthened,” he said. “The revolutions have helped Desertec.”

But Gropp was skeptical about the prospect of solar energy from Greece. The Desertec plan is to use large, low-tech rings of solar reflectors to beam sunlight onto pipes full of water, something called “concentrating solar-thermal power.” It will boil the water into steam to turn the turbines that generate electricity, and store some of the heat in storage tanks full of molten salt that can heat water when the sun is down. And it doesn’t need photovoltaic cells to convert light to electricity.

“We must sound a note of caution and stress that photovoltaic solar power from Greece cannot provide a viable alternative to clean power from deserts,” says an official statement from Gropp, who goes on to explain the virtues of the Desertec storage tanks.

It’s a little surprising to watch two potential solar providers snipe at each other over the German market. With their funding sources so different, there’s no obvious competition for money. But it’s a good sign. Massive changes in Africa as well as Europe may yet nudge solar-energy projects forward.

Still, no global development this year has touched the major problems Germany has to solve before it can seriously consider solar (or any mix of renewable sources) as a thorough alternative to nuclear power.

One problem is a high-capacity grid. Europe needs more efficient cable to build a long-distance market for green energy, otherwise too many valuable electrons will be lost between the wind or solar farms and the distant consumer. New cable, of course, has been developed and even installed, but the process is slow.

Another problem is verifying energy sources: The European Union’s energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, has admitted that Europe could, in theory, be tricked by providers in North Africa willing to juice a “clean” trans-Mediterranean solar grid with cheaper energy they generated on the sly from fossil fuels.

But the most important problem is cost. Solar still costs at least $160 per megawatt hour to produce. (And that’s using photovoltaics; concentrating solar-thermal is more expensive). Coal and gas range from $60-$80 per megawatt.

“The idea [behind Desertec] is to generate an expensive form of power and then transport it across long distances,” Bloomberg analyst Jenny Chase told The Ecologist last year. “That doesn’t stack up without significant amounts of subsidy. … I suspect that given the timescales involved, solar power may become cheap enough to deploy widely in Europe without needing to transport it from North Africa.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Michael Scott Moore
Michael Scott Moore was a 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow for journalism in Germany, and The Economist named his surf travelogue, "Sweetness and Blood," a book of the year in 2010. His first novel, "Too Much of Nothing," was published by Carroll & Graf in 2003, and he’s written about politics and travel for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, and Spiegel Online in Berlin, where he serves as editor-at-large.

More From Michael Scott Moore

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 22 • 4:00 PM

The Overly Harsh and Out-of-Date Law That’s So Difficult on Debtors

A 1968 federal law allows collectors to take 25 percent of debtors’ wages, or every penny in their bank accounts.


September 22 • 2:00 PM

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men

According to records kept by USA Today, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year.


September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


Follow us


All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.