The transition towards a sustainable energy system in Europe: What role can North Africa's solar resources play?
Securing energy supply and speeding up the transition towards a reliable, sustainable, low-carbon energy system are among the major current and future challenges facing Europe. Importing dispatchable solar electricity from North Africa is considered as a potential and attractive option. Nevertheless, as things currently stand, the European Commission focuses mainly on the exploitation of the existing wind power potential in the North Sea, largely ignoring the solar power potential in the Sahara region of North Africa. After discussing the major challenges and issues facing Europe to achieve the assigned ambitious objectives, the paper emphasises the importance of North Africa's solar resources in helping Europe to successfully address the challenge of decarbonising its electricity system, in particular with regards to the security of supply and sustainability. Within these two major challenges, the paper explores the issues of access, barriers and opportunities. The paper highlights why the EU’s energy and climate goals will not be achievable without adequate grid expansion and grid-scale energy storage facilities, as well as other innovative measures to manage demand and ensure a secure energy supply. In this respect, the paper shows how the import of dispatchable electricity from North Africa via specific HVDC links could play a key role in helping the EU achieve its energy targets in a cost effective way without recourse to significant investments in transmission infrastructure and storage facilities. The paper then attempts to identify and analyze the main barriers that continue to inhibit the export of solar electricity from North Africa to Europe. Finally, to make the project more attractive and achievable in the near future, the paper proposes a systematic approach for setting up energy import scenarios. A promising import scenario is presented where energy import via Italy is shown to be a more viable and effective solution than via Spain.