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

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

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