New interconnectors are needed throughout the Mediterranean region to facilitate large-scale electricity trading between the north and south, in addition to inter-grid trading throughout the region. To address this need, the Medgrid industrial initiative was set up to design and promote a Mediterranean transmission network capable of transporting 5 GW of electricity to Europe and to provide tools to assess infrastructure projects. In so doing, the project will support the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) under which about 20 GW of renewable power capacity, particularly solar power, should be built in the Mediterranean region by 2020. Investment in this infrastructure is forecast to reach between EUR 38 billion and EUR 46 billion, of which EUR 6 billion has been specifically earmarked for building submarine high-voltage direct current interconnectors between generation centres and the rest of Europe. There is currently only one double 1.4 GW AC line linking Africa to Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, according to information from the Mediterranean Energy Observatory (OME), primary energy demand in the Mediterranean region is forecast to increase 50% by 2025, compared to 2006 levels. The 20 GW of additional capacity foreseen in the MSP will only scratch the surface of addressing future needs. The OME forecasts that, to meet the increase in demand, the region will have to build an additional 191 GW of power capacity, of which 106 GW will be in the south and east and 85 GW in the north. The existing grid infrastructure will need to be significantly upgraded to cope with this increase in consumption, to ensure security of energy supply in the region and to facilitate the integration of energy from intermittent sources. Both these objectives will need to be achieved if the Northern Mediterranean region and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries (SMEC) are to meet the dual challenges of ensuring socio-economic development and decarbonizing their energy sectors.
On 20th November 2009, the French government launched an initiative to study the feasibility of a high-voltage direct current transmission project across the Mediterranean. One of the aims of this initiative was to put together an industrial partnership to implement the project, and so the Medgrid industrial initiative was set up in 2010. The initiative was launched within the framework of the Mediterranean Solar Plan which, in turn, is one of six key initiatives generated by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)1 aimed at meeting the future energy and climate challenges confronting the European Union and the larger Mediterranean region. The UfM Secretariat and Medgrid signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January 2012, paving the way for Medgrid to support the UfM in the implementation of the Mediterranean Solar Plan. Under the MoU, the partners share experts and analysts and participate in joint working groups on finance, infrastructure and projects of common interest.
The challenges that the project aims to address vary across the different regions. For the Northern Mediterranean region, specifically the European Union, the principal aim is to provide cost-effective energy while mitigating the negative impact of energy generation and use on the environment. The SMEC region is facing population and economic growth, requiring significant investment in the electricity sector to meet the resulting increase in electricity demand. The scarcity of fresh water in this region is also an issue, and the supply of power to future energy-intensive desalination plants, being built to meet the growing demand for water, will be a priority. However, a common objective across the entire region is to make energy supplies more secure and sustainable. As a first step towards achieving this goal, Medgrid will elaborate a Mediterranean Grid Master Plan, based on the national generation and transmission grid master plans for the countries involved. It will then endeavour to identify opportunities for power exchanges that exploit the different peak load periods for the various countries, and the energy mix based on different production costs and levels of environmental performance (CO2 emissions). This work will be facilitated by the involvement of more than 20 companies from 8 Mediterranean countries.2
Medgrid works in cooperation with other initiatives being implemented in the region, where a number of regional associations and industrial initiatives3 have developed a cooperative approach to the development of an energy community of UfM members built around four pillars: energy security; energy sustainability; affordability of energy and competiveness of systems; and the integrated development of the region. In 2011, Medgrid signed an MoU with the Desertec Industry Initiative (Dii) with a view to launching coordinated actions. Medgrid also works closely with public authorities in the countries involved, in addition to the European Commission, the scientific community, development banks and NGOs. These collaborations aim to create an attractive investment environment and assess the benefits of the planned infrastructure investments, and the subsequent trade in electricity, on growth, economic activity and employment.
The uncertainty resulting from the political upheaval in the Mediterranean region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions has impacted on the Medgrid and other projects in the region. While this uncertainty makes the challenges facing the project more daunting, it also underlines the importance of this and other co-development projects supported by the UfM as a source of stability and socio-economic development in the region.
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1Launched in 2008, the UfM promotes new co-development policies in the Mediterranean region and brings together 43 Mediterranean and EU countries.
2Medgrid founding members are: Abengoa, AFD, Alstom grid, Areva Renouvelables, Atos WorldGrid, CDC Infrastructure, EDF, Ineo, Nemo, Nexans, Nur Energie, ONE, Pan Med Trading and Investment, Prysmian, Red Eléctrica, RTE, Siemens, Soitec Concentrix Solar, Taqa Arabia, Terna and Walid Elias Establishment.
3MEDELEC, MEDENER, OME, RCREEE, IPEMED, Dii, MEDGRID and RES4MED.