The Mediterranean Sea gets its name from being "between lands." With Europe, Asia, and Africa on its shores and the vast Atlantic just beyond, it’s also becoming a hub for the world’s energy problems and solutions.
The Trans Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, also known as TREC, is an ambitious plan to turn Europe, North Africa, and the westernmost reaches of Asia (the Middle East) into a supergrid whose power potential would yield heaps of market opportunities for green power companies.
image from www.trecers.net
Using two types of solar power–concentrating, mirror-based power (CSP) and photovoltaic–as well as wind, wave, biomass, and geothermal energy derivation methods, TREC would integrate many of the world’s most prosperous energy consumers with far-flung desert communities that currently have little or no access to power grids.
It may seem like a Green Chip Stocks fantasy, but the reality of triple-digit oil prices and geopolitical shuffling is turning this intercontinental hookup into a much more likely scenario.
First off, the links aren’t challenging from an engineering standpoint. Companies like ABB Ltd (NYSE:ABB), which I recommended to my Orbus Investor subscribers in October 2006 for a 94% gain to date, have been laying cables across the frigid Baltic Sea (where Estonia connects to Finland), and even across the Atlantic, for decades.
So the short jog across the Strait of Gibraltar, traversed by Moors and Spaniards moving in opposite directions in various phases of historical might, can easily be bridged to bring energy security to modern-day Moroccans and Iberians alike.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a Mediterranean Union during his first year in office, even taking the time during his victory speech to propose a strategic partnership among countries in Europe, the Levant (eastern Mediterranean), and North Africa.
"The time has come to build together a Mediterranean Union that will be the bridge between Europe and Africa," Sarkozy said last May.
With the European Union’s Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, shivering at the thought of another winter of natgas turmoil fed by Russian petro-politics (for the past two years EU nations have either experienced or barely avoided supply squeezes as price spats raged between Moscow and former Soviet states Belarus and Ukraine), energy security is the watchword.
Renewable Energy Solutions to More than Energy Problems
And as immigration from Turkey, Iraq, Algeria, and other countries has changed the complexion of many European countries, a linkup from Europe can stimulate non-Russian power sources while giving a shot in the arm to non-EU job markets, reducing the wealth gradient that brings so many to Europe in search of opportunities they can’t find at home.
His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan presented a white paper to the European Parliament in November of 2007 that outlines a seven-year plan for establishing solar thermal power plants that have major heat storage capacity (essential for both day and night delivery to the grid) and high-voltage direct-current lines to deliver excess local capacity over to the European side from North Africa.
Where Europe is poor (solar energy), Africa and the Middle East are swimming in sun. And though the wind energy capacity on Africa’s Atlantic coast is relatively underdeveloped, several turbines built by Danish wind energy giant Vestas were installed there in 2002.
But five years is a long time in energy terms, and with major European goals like Britain’s target of powering each home in the country by wind before 2020, North African nations have a lot of catching up to do.
Gaining ground will, of course, be much easier with the EU’s significant financial resources in play. What Prince Hassan’s plan sets forth in Europe can also be replicated in the Levant, where I’ve personally met with joint Israeli-Jordanian solar power planners in the Arava Valley.
The Israeli government is in the midst of a major 250 MW solar energy initiative in the country’s southern Negev Desert, which has the world’s highest solar radiation levels (also the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea), and where a recent nanotechnology breakthrough in solar PV cells at Bar-Ilan University could turn the country’s sparsely-populated south into a hotbed of leading solar science.
Prince Hassan speaks Hebrew, as well as English, French, German, Spanish, and of course Arabic. He’s got the linguistic wherewithal and political maturity to scurry around the region like the ancient Phoenicians while his nephew King Abdullah runs the country.
I’m watching Vestas (which also just received a 99 MW order from my home state of Kansas), which trades on the OMX Nordic Copenhagen Exchange as VWS (CPH:VWS), as well as a German solar company that Jeff Siegel and I believe is in a prime position to profit from TREC’s future of regional green energy integration.
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