Sun beating down on the Egyptian desert could help to power British homes under plans being drawn up to help bolster energy security in a net zero world.
Plans to install subsea cables connecting Egypt and Europe across the Mediterranean will see power from solar farms and wind turbines in North Africa exported to the UK and Europe.
Exports will flow during times when low wind or poor sunshine reduce output from North Sea wind farms and onshore solar farms. Details of the project will be set out at an energy summit in London next week.
Carlos Diaz, director of renewables and power at Rystad, the energy analysts organising the conference, said North Africa was becoming an increasingly important source of electricity for all of Europe.
He said: “European demand for low carbon electricity is expected to grow substantially over the next three years. Building infrastructure in Europe may never be sufficient so we need to look at other sources.”
Those sources include a series of giant solar farms built or under construction in the Egyptian deserts and wind farms built close to the Suez Canal – an area known for strong steady winds.
Together they are expected to generate about 10 gigawatts of power – roughly equivalent to 10 UK power stations. Their energy would be transmitted under the Mediterranean via a 600 mile cable terminating in Attica in Greece.
“About a third of the power will be used in Greece and the rest will be exported to the rest of Europe,” said Diaz. “Europe already has a good grid network so this should allow distribution of the power all the way to Northern Europe and the UK.”
The £3.7bn project is being developed by the Copelouzos Group, a Greek company, in conjunction with Infinity, an Egyptian business that has developed solar farms across desert regions.
The Egyptian project will run in parallel with another separate scheme to lay four cables directly between Morocco and the UK – a distance of about 2,400 miles.
That project, being developed by Xlinks, would deliver solar power generated in the Maghreb to a terminal on the south coast of Devon.
Such cables, known as interconnectors, already link the UK’s power grid to France, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands, with another link to Denmark under construction.
Interconnectors are becoming increasingly important in keeping the nation’s lights on. Between January and June this year, the UK used those cables to import roughly £2bn of power, compared to £322m in exports.
Links to the continent help to compensate for a long-term lack of investment in nuclear and other home-grown generation.
A National Grid spokesman said: “Interconnectors are a vital part of the energy transition, enabling energy to move from where it is generated to where it is needed most.
“They have numerous benefits, not least in helping to make Britain’s energy system more secure, giving system operators access to huge volumes of electricity at the flick of a switch. This is vital in an energy system more reliant on intermittent renewables.”