Desertec is a German idea. It has mostly German companies taking part and thus it is hardly surprising that a German politician – albeit one that now happens to be a commissioner – supports it.
The concerns with respect to using power links to import fossil fuel-based power rather than renewables are justifiable. Currently the Italians are building a power link to Libya to import electricity from coal-fired stations in Libya. Thus making a joke of the Emissions Trading Scheme. To help Mr. Oettinger with his “is it from renewables or fossil fuel sources” problem; generally speaking electrons do not come with labels saying “fossil-fuel source” or “renewable-source”.
The country closest to North Africa is Spain, suggesting that this would be a good location for initial Europe-North Africa interconnectors. Importing more renewables into Spain will make a bad situation (the need to match RES growth with back-up gas turbines – CCGTs) worse.
One gains the impression (from comments and lack of action) that Mr Oettinger seems to prefer to focus on projects in North Africa that will benefit German companies than addressing the pitiful electrical connections between, for example, Spain and France, which currently has around 1GW of connections. A recent presentation by Elia (Belgian TSO) at a CEPS meeting suggested that something like 10GW is needed between the two countries i.e. nine new double circuit 400kV lines.
At his EP hearing in February Oettinger claimed that his focus would be implementing the 3rd Energy Package. The package explicitly includes strengthening EU cross-border power links, the weakest ones being France-Spain, Italy to various northern states and links between the new member states to the east and those to the west. Limited cross-border links make a joke of any ambition to have an EU market for electrical power – a key pillar of EU energy policy.
Another key pillar of EU energy policy is energy independence. Mr Oettinger’s support for power connections to North Africa contradicts this policy.
The idea of Desertec is not a bad one but falls over in a few important areas. The country that is closest to North Africa, Spain, already has interconnection problems with the rest of Europe i.e. France. Thus landing HVDC interconnectors in Spain makes no sense (how to shift the power?).
The country furthest away from North Africa, France (650kms), has a network which with some reinforcement might be able to carry North African power to mid and north Europe. However, if France cannot be bothered to connect to Spain, why would it bother reinforcing its network for North African energy. This leaves Italy, with a weak north-south network and cross-border links (mostly across the Alps) that are used to import 25% of is electrical power needs, leaving zero spare capacity for exports of any meaningful size.
This brings us full circle. If Oettinger wants to help his pet project Destertec and his chums in German industry, the best thing he could do is push forward with implementing the 3rd Energy Package. However, his rather muted action in this area means that his Desertec ambitions will never be realised.
Finishing on a positive note, one is encouraged to see that Mr Oettinger is an expert in one area, gas (as produced in large quantities by politicians).