At the end of March, the French press scored a remarkable scoop: the Transgreen project will be officially launched at the coming summit of the 'Union pour la Méditerranée' (UPM) scheduled for 25th May in Cairo. Other European newspapers from several countries subsequently reported the story, eliciting a heated debate. By looking at a few numbers, however, the project can be seen in a more modest perspective. Huge as it may seem, it is only a small step in the creation of a sustainable energy system for Europe. There is plenty of room left for other initiatives, such as Desertec.
Similar to Desertec, Transgreen is a plan to build large solar power stations in the North African desert and transport part of the energy produced to Europe via a new submarine transmission line. The project will be run under the auspices of the French energy provider EDF, however many other parties are said to be already on board. These include the French network operator RTE and the Italian energy company ENI, as well as several electrical equipment manufacturers.
The funding for a first stage of the project, scheduled to be operational by 2020, is said to be arranged although specifics were not given. This initial stage involves the construction of 20 GW of solar power capacity, of which 5 GW will be exported to Europe. It is not clear whether the capacity factor has already been taken into account in these figures. According to press articles, the project has the potential to supply up to 15% of Europe’s energy needs in the future.
Everyone who is concerned about our sustainable energy future can only be delighted with this news. Nevertheless, it also elicited a few bitter reactions. Spain, for instance, hoped their current EU presidency could bring Europe onboard for financing the Desertec concept. This plan now seems to have been outflanked by the French initiative. To make matters even worse for the Spanish, Transgreen is planning to build the main connection via Italy rather than Spain.
On internet forums, some people are expressing disappointment for another reason. They see this mega-project as the end of a future energy concept based on distributed generation.
By looking at a few numbers, the euphoria as well as the disillusionments can be easily tempered. A 5 GW transport capacity to Europe is huge, but the way the press articles immediately jump to 15% of Europe’s energy needs is misleading. According to David Mc Kay (Sustainable Energy / Without the hot air), Europe needs 80 kWh of electrical energy per person per day. This figure takes into account the electrification of transport and heating on one side, and significant efforts for improving energy efficiency on the other. Assuming the consumption is evenly distributed over time, this means we need a total capacity of 1,700 GW for 500 million people in Europe. (In reality, the consumption pattern is uneven, so we need either more capacity or huge storage systems.) Simple arithmetic reveals that 15% of 1,700 GW is 255 GW. All of which means it will require at least 50 more projects the size of Transgreen to reach 15%.
Transgreen is indeed a big project, but in the overall vision of a carbon emission free Europe, it is only one small step forward on a very long journey. There are still enormous opportunities left for Desertec as well as for all kinds of distributed energy initiatives.Log in to post comments