From mere idea to more likely reality: a huge solar power project in North Africa, funded by European investors, to provide electricity to much of Europe and perhaps to much of North Africa as well. The many billion dollar initiative could, its backers suggest, provide up to 15% of the European Union’s power in a light shade of green. Of course, Europe has sun, too, although not in the abundant, and consistent, quantities North Africa does. While the project might indicate that solar power has “arrived” and the industry could attract significant investment and policy and public support. Some question the efficiency of transporting power over a sea, when it also could be harvested from Europe’s roofs, backyards or fallow or neglected land (rural or urban).
But the project, as planned, also seems to repeat a pattern that’s been set for centuries: move resources from the south to the north. Sub-Saharan Africa is bedeviled by massive energy poverty. It stymies industries large and small and hampers provision of health care, schooling (if kids don’t have access to at least some power, how well can they study at night?), even the production of solar panels or wind turbines. The entrepreneurs behind “Desertec,” as the North African solar initiative is known, are mostly looking north. Green power for the rest of Africa is, at a large-scale, still on the drawing boards. How illuminating is that?