Approach to North African solar schemes slammed as 'chaotic'
Two-track approach to North African solar schemes is criticised as 'out of sync and chaotic'.
African and UN representatives have slammed the Desertec andMediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) initiatives for being out of sync and at times chaotic, only days before government ministers arrive in Spain to finalise plans for the MSP.
The initiatives — MSP born of government and Desertec of industry — share the same goal of massively boosting solar energy along the African shores of the Mediterranean, and linking it to Europe's high-paying energy consumers.
Rather than working in tandem, many in North Africa feel the groups are undermining each other and muddying the playing field for regional solar-energy development.
"On the north side [of the Mediterranean] they can't even communicate with one another, let alone co-ordinate something as complicated as what they have proposed", says Nazar Hassan, senior programme specialist for Arab states at Unesco (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). "Let me make a suggestion for Europe: set up a coherent and integrated vision for solar power in North Africa, and then start the publicity tour."
The criticism comes less than a week before government ministers arrive in Valencia to unveil final details of an MSP strategy for 2011-2020. Spain has made MSP stewardship one of the priorities of its EU presidency, which it hands to Belgium in July.
Oliver Steinmetz, a member of Desertec's supervisory board, says it is unfair to characterise the two as working in isolation, as they stem from the same idea.
Desertec, which is led by industry players such as Siemens, E.ON and Deutsche Bank, intends to source 15% of Europe's electricity from North Africa by 2050. The MSP is working to install 20 gigawatts of renewables capacity in North Africa by 2020, while building the infrastructure needed to take excess supply to Europe.
Steinmetz acknowledges some co-ordination problems between the plans, but he says they are fundamentally complementary, given that Desertec is bottom-up and industry-led, while MSP is top-down and government-led in nature. However, Pierre Convert, who represents MSP from within his role at France's Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Sea, is quicker to concede that problems are looming for the two-track approach.
The MSP project, which is co- ordinated by the Barcelona-based Union for the Mediterranean (UFM) rather than the EU, already includes nearly 70 projects, ranging from the purely public to the fully private, and everything in between. "It can be quite a fuzzy landscape," Convert admits.
There are three operational layers to the MSP, he explains. At the top are EU countries, and at the bottom North African states with individual and regional renewables targets. Padding out the tangled middle is a welter of financial institutions such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, as well as bilateral trade agreements between various countries, carbon finance and loosely defined governmental plans such as the EU's Mediterranean plan on electricity integration, known as Med-Ring.
The EU itself is wary of the existence of the UFM, warning that it must build on EU structures, rather than compete with them.
After hearing presentations from Desertec and MSP representatives at a conference in Cairo, Hassan called them disappointing. He says: "If it seems disorganised with two representatives together on the same stage, imagine what it is like trying to get a co-ordinated answer when they're not in the same room."
Published: Friday, May 7 2010