The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is endowed with some of the richest reserves of solar and wind energy in the world – an invaluable resource that, if properly exploited, could create jobs, generate export revenue, and drive development. In March 2014, we held our latest parliamentary hearing in Hammamet, Tunisia, in order to explore what MENA MPs can do to encourage the development of renewable energy for domestic consumption, attract foreign direct investment in large-scale projects, and take the lead in advancing energy trading agreements in dialogue with their colleagues from the European Union.
The hearing, jointly organised by the Climate Parliament and the United Nations Development Programme, convened legislators from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa for a debate on how MPs can attract investment for local-scale off-grid renewable energy projects in their countries.
You can read a full report on the event here, featuring an overview of presentations, participant list, and a full programme.
We already have all the technology we need to link the energy-rich deserts and coastlines of the MENA region to domestic and European consumers. High-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables, which lose only around 3% of power every 1000km and add around 1¢ per kWh to distribution costs, can link solar plants and wind farms into an integrated EU-MENA regional grid, thus overcoming problems of intermittency and ensure a reliable supply of clean electricity for all. Such a network would drive development, accelerate decarbonisation, and provide much-needed momentum to the global renewable transition.
This is a win-win proposition for MENA countries: investment in large-scale renewable energy would spur sustainable economic growth North Africa by fighting energy poverty, reducing reliance on expensive fossil fuels, generating thousands of new jobs, and creating new sources of export revenue from the sale of clean, reliable electricity. Per dollar invested, renewable technology creates three times as many jobs as fossil fuel industries, while renewable energy exports from North Africa to Europe could generate over €60 billion in export revenues per annum – more than Morocco and Egypt's current export revenues combined.
Europe, meanwhile, would gain access to a vast reserve of cheap, clean energy, enabling it to meet its 2050 decarbonisation targets and insulate itself from rising fossil fuel prices. With the EU committed to a 90% decarbonisation by 2050, European demand for clean energy can only grow; integrating MENA region solar and wind resources into the European grid could save the EU €33 billion every year.
Members of parliament have a key role to play to unlock this potential. An interregional political dialogue on energy trading is a vital first step towards a EU-MENA grid, while legislative and regulatory action is required to create robust policy frameworks to manage regional grid integration, and new economic incentives must be designed to encourage investment in pilot projects and grid infrastructure.