It seemed like a good idea at the time. Back in 2008 a group of Southern European and North African leaders clubbed together to form the Union for the Mediterranean and hatched an ambitious energy project.
The Mediterranean Solar Plan, unveiled in July 2008 in Barcelona, aimed to provide “a common answer to the energy and climate challenges of the Euro-Mediterranean region,” according to a document presented by Philippe Lorec, France’s deputy director general for Energy and Climate.
To do this, the plan advocated meeting two targets by 2020: a 20% reduction in primary energy use compared to 2005 levels, and the development of 20GW in new renewable energy generation.
An update published by Lorec, the plan’s project manager, in October 2009 specified that CSP would make up 26% of the total, with a further 45% contribution from PV, 26% from wind, 2% from biomass and 1% from hydro. The plan envisaged 74% private funding.
At that point the scene was set to begin work in earnest between 2010 and 2012. Six Middle East and North African (MENA) countries were changing their legal frameworks to allow for national solar plans, renewable energy laws and the introduction of specific tariffs.
A total of 67 projects were in progress across MENA, including 25, worth 4.1GW, supported by national programmes, 14 (worth 650MW) funded privately and 13 (885MW) backed by clean tech funds.
Cracks, however, were beginning to appear in the plan’s foundations. The Union for the Mediterranean summits planned for 2009 and 2010 were sidelined because of concerns over the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Subsequent progress has been halting, not least because of the European sovereign debt crisis from late 2009 and the Arab Spring from December 2010.
These events have led countries north and south of the Mediterranean to focus more on their internal affairs than on reaching out to each other. And they have also put the kibosh on many national renewable energy plans. Witness Spain, for example.
Where does that leave the Mediterranean Solar Plan?
Right now it is pretty much off the radar as far as most renewable energy observers are concerned. “I have few details on what is going on,” states IHS Emerging Energy Research solar power advisory analyst Josefin Berg, for instance.
And Luis Crespo Rodríguez, general secretary at Protermosolar, the Spanish CSP industry association whose beleaguered members currently offer the best hope of delivering most of the solar thermal power needed for the Mediterranean Solar Plan, scoffs: “It’s not even defined yet.
“The Mediterranean Solar Plan is stuck. There is no definition of the project or the execution plan.”
He adds: “As soon as it is properly defined, Spain will then position itself accordingly, and if the development of our industry has been fully supported then we will be in a better state to do so, so in that sense there is an indirect effect. But it still needs to be defined.”
With all that said, there are still some signs of life within the Mediterranean Solar Plan.
In January, Medgrid, a 21-strong industrial consortium featuring CSP players such as Abengoa, Alstom and Siemens, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Union for the Mediterranean’s secretariat to help drive the plan forward.
And on March 16 the European Commission gave its formal approval to the plan’s first operational financial tool, the Mediterranean Solar Plan Project Preparation Initiative.
The tool, which will cover the cost of technical assistance for the preparation of sustainable energy investment projects, is only available in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank and Gaza. And the level of support has not been cited.
Furthermore it is just “intended to support investment projects which are already at a sufficient advanced stage of preparation, and which have a high probability of being financed and implemented in a reasonable timeframe,” according to a press statement.
Nevertheless these announcements, coming after a long period in which the only news from the Union for the Mediterranean was on the appointment of officials, show the Mediterranean Solar Plan could be poised for a comeback.
“At this stage I guess we just haven’t seen much tangible evidence that it will go to the extent they desire, not least because recently in North Africa, with the Arab spring, the focus has shifted somewhat,” accepts Andrew Stiel, a CSP analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
However, he adds: “All these things are very contingent on government announcements, so tomorrow Saudi Arabia could turn around and say, ‘right, we want 10GW in five years’. That’s a game-changer. I don’t think you can write it off.
CCRES special thanks to Jason Deign
CROATIAN CENTER of RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES (CCRES)