Center for Global Development chart shows "direct normal radiance (DNI)" or amount of sunlight hitting the ground in watts per square meter across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. CGD is exploring the potential of capturing the ample solar energy in North Africa to power Europe.
A new kind of "cold war" has unfolded between Europe and Russia this winter.
Europe was chilled in January over lost supplies of Russian natural gas because of a price dispute between Russia and Ukraine.
Europe imports a quarter of its natural gas from Russia, and four-fifths of that supply flows through Ukraine, a former Soviet state. Ukraine has been protesting proposed Russian price increases, and in retaliation Russia shut Ukraine's supplies. The dispute has been settled, for now.
Center for Global Development analysts Kevin Ummel and David Wheeler have been pondering the economic potential of capturing and moving solar energy from North Africa as a way to reduce Europe's energy vulnerability and to lower greenhouse gas emissions. They explore the potential of using solar thermal or concentrating solar power (CSP) arrays to boil water and turn steam electric turbines.
Of course front-end construction subsidies would be required, but their research indicates the potential of meeting energy needs of 35 million people by 2020 at a price potentially comparable with coal- and gas-based power production in Europe.
Besides a decline in planet warming greenhouse gas emissions, a move towards solar can improve European energy security. Gas supplies are not forever, and as long as Europe depends on Russia for natural gas it will have to bend to Russia's will, caprice, or need to use its own gas supplies.