All of Europe’s energy needs could be supplied by building an array of solar panels in the Sahara, the recent climate change conference in Copenhagen has been told.
Technological advances coupled with falling costs have finally made it realistic to consider North Africa as Europe’s main source of imported energy.
And by harnessing the Sun, possibly in tandem with wind farms along the North African coastline, the continent could easily meet its 2020 target of generating at least 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.
“It [North Africa] could supply Europe with all the energy it needs,” Anthony Patt, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, told scientists. “The Sun is very strong there and it is very reliable. “There is a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for North Africa that start to compare favourably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving long distances has really come down.”
Dr Patt explained only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, needed to be covered to produce enough energy for Europe. He told the conference that calculations reveal that a £50 billion investment by governments over the next ten years would be enough to make Saharan solar power an attractive and viable prospect for private investors.
Receiving energy from North Africa would, the conference heard, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which drive climate change by emitting carbon dioxide. The renewable source of energy would also mean that Europe relied less on Russia and the Middle East for fuel. However, attractive as Saharan solar power is, Dr Patt said, there remained the challenge of overcoming political hurdles, such as opposition from residents across Europe to having transmission cables installed near their homes.