Latest Potsdam Institute Report

If just one percent of the Saharan Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world. That’s a powerful number, and the European Union has decided to jump on their proximity to the Sahara in order to reap some benefits from the untapped solar energy beaming down on Northern Africa. Just yesterday, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced that Europe will start importing solar energy from the Sahara within the next five years. The news comes after the Desertec Initiative was announced last year, which sets a long-term plan of about 40 years.

I enjoy the Potsdam Institute’s reports, though at times, like today, they seem too much in bed, or at least embedded in industry — but then of course energy is the biggest industry around & there is no model for a non-business (i.e. non-capitalist) alternative energy grid. Interesting though that in the report below the association Europe-North Africa is taken for granted, even if any definitions of such intercourse remain unspoken. Nor is the most obvious elephant in the room mentioned: solar energy from the Sahara which could indeed create a 100 percent renewable energy run Europe & Maghreb. (Or more: check picture & comment above). So what are they really talking about? At this point your guess is as good as mine.

Good progress on the road to 100 percent renewable electricity – despite obstacles

Progress towards achieving one hundred percent renewable electricity in Europe and North Africa by 2050 is largely good, according to a report released on may 31st in Brussels. However, in the cross-border grid development, little progress has been made on the ground. This is due to a lack of regulatory harmonization and a lack of mechanisms to deal with growing public opposition to infrastructure projects, the report shows. The report – a collaboration of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK),  the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA) and the advisory firm PwC – is building a bridge between science and the business and investment community to investigate the transformation of the power sector.

“Today, it is barely possible to build a single transmission line especially from one country to another, as a result of inefficient legislation and public opposition”, says Antonella Battaglini of PIK, one of the authors. “Unless we start today to build the infrastructure for a SuperSmart Grid for Europe and North Africa quickly and efficiently, we can abandon the dream of reaching the one hundred percent renewables power system by 2050.” Good progress has been made in the EU with the publication of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity ten-year network development plan, she points out, but almost no progress to simplify permitting processes. Also, tools like benefit sharing and community involvement in the planning process need to be further explored.

The report looks at whether the vision of full renewable electricity supply in Europe – not taking into account the heat market – has moved closer since the publication of a roadmap one year ago. It does so by analyzing key enabling factors as well as major events. The nuclear disaster in Japan, for instance, followed by the moratorium for nuclear energy in Germany, resulted in a ten percent increase in the cost of carbon emission allowances in the EU in the short term, improving the cost-benefit ratio for renewables.

For the market structure, there are mixed findings. Although the European markets are liberalized and theoretically competitive, in reality most markets do not function in the way that they need to. “We are doing well on market integration but competition is still missing”, says co-author Anthony Patt of IIASA. “Moreover the current turmoil in North Africa may be an opportunity  for stronger collaboration on energy in the long term, but for the time being everything is on hold.”

There is a similar result for the investment climate. Governments have maintained their existing support mechanisms but do not provide reliable policy perspectives beyond 2020. “There has been a great deal of positive development in the last 12 months and we can be confident that the transition to renewables in Europe will continue. However, longer term planning, defining the overall direction of European electricity supply and ambitious and credible long-term political commitments are now needed to increase investor confidence and ensure that funding for renewable energy projects remains available”, says Gus Schellekens, a director in the sustainability and climate change team at PwC.

Two most relevant positive trends outweigh the negative ones, the study concludes. Despite the delays in the UN climate negotiations, political leadership is largely found to be supportive of continued development of renewables. And technological progress results in a significant expansion in the renewables capacities as well as in a cost reduction across technologies; those two factors are mutually reinforcing.

“The expansion of renewable energy sources is key to SEFEP mission”, says Martin Rocholl of the Smart Energy For Europe Platform SEFEP, the funder of the report. “This report shows that important steps have been made but also that without long term vision, political leadership and longevity of regulations it will be hard to reach the targets set. SEFEP will continue to build bridges across society to stimulate support for a fast and effective transformation into a largely renewable power sector.“

Weblink to the report

About PwC

PwC’s sustainability and climate change is a global network of 700 people. We are a leading adviser on sustainability, climate change, renewables and green growth, working with clients in both the public and private sectors internationally, to help them embed sustainability in their strategies and throughout their organizations

About  PIK

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research located in Germany addresses crucial questions in the field of global change, climate impacts and sustainable development. Natural and social scientists work together to generate interdisciplinary insights and to provide society with sound information for decision-making.


The International Institute for Applied System Analysis is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.


The Smart Energy For Europe Platform is an independent, non-profit organisation founded by the European Climate Foundation and the Stiftung Mercator. Based in Berlin, SEFEP offers a platform to stimulate cooperation and synergies among all European actors who aim to build a fully de-carbonised, predominantly renewable power sector. SEFEP’s specific focus is the role that renewable energy sources play in driving a low-carbon transition, with a founding principle that deriving at least 70% of all electricity supply from renewable sources by 2035 is not only achievable but is the most certain pathway to reaching Europe’s 2050 climate and energy security objectives.

For more information please contact:
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Jonas Viering
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Mobile: +49 179 399 88 62

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    I love it when ideology drives policy. The International Energy Agency has just reported that carbon emissions are up 5% from record setting 2008 levels. Without nuclear power Germany must now replace 23% of it’s energy needs within 10 years. Good luck with that. Their only hope is the projected glut of projected natural gas supplies particularly in North America. Japan, Canada and Russia are pressing the G8 to allow the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emmissions targets to lapse. It can’t be met anyway. The U.S. and China never signed on in the first place.
    “European markets are liberalized and theoretically competitive” only in a bureaucrats dream. Check the utility and gas bills in Europe. I’d much rather pay here.
    It will stop being about “capitalism” and free markets when we all work for no wages. I’m retired. Sadly, I need people working as I did. As much as I love Europe, I am glad I live without their bureaucratic fiddling. Their taxpayers are paying them. Whose paying the tax payer?
    All governments that share the Sahara, or any part of it, best organize themselves on behalf of their citizens to ensure their resources first benefit them safely, profitably and, most importantly, controllably, that is to say, under North African control.
    My guess is the report’s ultimate aim is to solve the problems in Europe caused by their own failed , but expensive programs and not North Africa which could make use of an infusion of capital. My fingers are crossed for Africa.

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