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The only 3 African countries supplying electricity to Europe

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olar panels in sun-rich North Africa generate up to three times more energy than in Europe. And North Africa has a lot more room for them than densely populated Europe. Result: Europe’s drive to end its reliance on Russian natural gas supplies, triggered by the Ukraine conflict, is resulting in a rush to install giant solar energy farms and lay underwater cables to tap into North Africa’s abundant renewable energy.

But there are growing concerns about the environmental impacts in Africa of Europe’s outsourcing of its energy needs. Desert ecosystems will be decimated. Livestock pastures that have been grazed by nomadic tribes for millennia will be commandeered. And analysts fear that this will all happen with minimal community consultation or ecological assessment.

Solar and wind farms are already proliferating south of the Mediterranean. Morocco’s Noor and Egypt’s Benban solar farms are among the largest in the world. Their initial aim has been to boost domestic power supplies and reduce reliance on coal. But now these facilities are increasingly being lined up to supply green energy to industrial neighbors to the north, through new intercontinental submarine cables, or to locally manufacture “green” hydrogen for shipping to Europe, where demand is growing fast for low-carbon industrial fuels.

Morocco, the North African country furthest advanced on this road, is already exporting solar power to Europe via two existing power links with Spain. Last year it signed a new deal with the European Union to expand power exports. Egypt, host of the most recent UN climate conference (COP27) is considering three proposals for cables to link to Greece. Another planned submarine cable that would link new solar farms in the desert of southern Tunisia to Italy’s electricity grid has funding promised from the European Union (EU) and World Bank.

But the biggest megaproject aims to lay the world’s longest high-voltage submarine cables for 2,300 miles from giant energy farms in the Moroccan desert past the Atlantic coastlines of Portugal, Spain, and France to southwest England, from where it could provide 8 percent of the United Kingdom’s electricity. The cost of the proposed 10,500-megawatt Xlinks project is expected to be $22 billion, half for the solar and wind energy farms and half for the cables.

North Africa’s sometimes autocratic governments have already shown themselves adept at delivering rapid construction of large renewable-energy projects in the Sahara. Egypt’s 1,650-megawatt Benban solar park, near Aswan on the Nile River, was completed within two years of receiving funding.

And Europe is keen to tap in. Last May, as the Ukraine conflict intensified, the European Commission, representing 27 EU members, launched REPowerEU, “a plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels and fast forward the green transition.” It provides political and financial backing for cross-border investments to stimulate renewable energy imports from North Africa, and it is considered crucial to enabling the EU to achieve its goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

But there are ethical concerns about Africa exporting so much power. Most people in Morocco and Egypt have electricity, but less than half the continent’s population is connected to reliable power grids.

Tunisia is developing two schemes – the TuNur and Elmed projects — that aim to send power to Malta and Italy from solar complexes near the oasis town of Rjim Maatoug in southwest Tunisia. The area to be annexed is rich in salt-tolerant desert shrubs such as traganum and ephedra and is close to the largest salt pan in the Sahara, the Chott el Jerid.

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