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

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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