The Mediterranean Solar Plan – a
necessity, not an option
Feb 16, 2009 - Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner
for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
Ferrero-Waldner articulates why renewable energy especially
solar energy is a key part of Europe's external policy
development challenges and secure our energy future.
I am delighted to be invited to open
this session today on the Mediterranean Solar Plan.
I am delighted, not just because I personally believe
that because solar energy is one of the most promising
sources of renewable energy for the future – more
on that later – but because the issues which underpin
this event – how to address the increasing energy
demands of citizens in a sustainable manner and within
the long-term context of climate change – constitute
some of the most pressing and complex external relations
policy challenges of our times.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine
in 2006, European supplies were not seriously affected.
When it did so this year, European households suffered.
This was another wake-up call – if one were needed
- that enhancing energy security in Europe is an increasingly
pressing concern, and one that needs a European, rather
than national, response.
Last month’s events underscored the
importance of diversifying our energy imports in terms
of energy mix, origin and transportation routes. All
of this we are seeking to do. If we are to meet our
20/20/20 targets, it is clear that this energy diversification
strategy must include a significant shift to renewable
energies and in particular solar.
I’d like to begin with a few thoughts
on why I believe solar is so promising an energy source
for the future, and why conditions for its development
are propitious. I’ll then sketch out our ambitions
for the Mediterranean Solar Plan and how it fits into
our wider Energy Security Strategy. I’ll close with
a few words on climate change
So, why is solar energy promising?
I would argue because:
* it has huge potential: the sun provides
enough energy in one day to meet the world’s annual
energy consumption for 40 years;
* it is an energy source which is distributed
world-wide and is inexhaustible;
* Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic
– the conversion of solar energy into electricity
through the use of cells - are proven energy technologies
that do not contribute to rising greenhouse gas levels;
* I believe that, solar energy technologies
will be able – in time and with research support -
to compete with fossil fuels. The Obama Administration’s
commitment to back green energy research - much as
we are doing through our Strategic Energy Technology
(SET) Plan - is therefore welcome;
* Last but not least in terms of benefits,
solar has significant potential for job creation.
To give but one example, the world's largest solar
photovoltaic farm is taking shape near Moura, a small
town in Portugal, which boasts the most sunshine per
square metre a year in Europe. As a result of its
policies on renewable energy, in less than three years,
Portugal has trebled its hydropower capacity, quadrupled
its wind power, and is investing in flagship wave
and photovoltaic plants. All of this has created jobs.
And we know that in the Mediterranean region, 22 million
jobs will need to be created in the next few years
to simply sustain current employment levels.
In other words, Ladies and Gentlemen,
solar presents significant potential advantages, if
we make the right investment in research to ensure
that it becomes commercially viable and cost effective
as soon as possible. As diversification into renewable
energy becomes no longer a matter of choice - but
of necessity – it abundantly clear that we must make
And the time is ripe for the development
of solar energy, it seems to me, for three reasons:
First, current efforts for reviving
economic growth in the wake of the financial crisis
can and should provide us with a real incentive to
target the development of clean energy technologies
and related industries, both in the EU and partner
Second, the whole international community
in Copenhagen at the end of this year will agree the
future regime to tackle Climate Change. An ambitious
and effective action plan for the development of renewable
energy will be an important part of the overall strategy;
Third, at EU level, we are aiming to
step up action to achieve our 20% renewable energy
target. We are looking towards the new renewables
directive as an important instrument for intensifying
the development and use of green energies in the EU
and in third countries, particularly in the EU’s neighbourhood.
Turning now to our main subject today
- the Mediterranean Solar Plan. Identified as one
of the priority initiatives of the Union for the Mediterranean,
its aim, as the name suggests, is to increase the
use of solar energy in the Mediterranean. By facilitating
energy production from renewable energy sources, we
are confident it will provide a boost for green electricity
trade and encourage the development of a “Euro-Mediterranean
green electricity market”. It should help address
internal energy demand in participating countries,
as well as help us implement the European Energy and
In terms of Commission action, I see
three priorities for the coming months:
We need to continue supporting the development
of a stable legislative and regulatory framework in
the Euro-Mediterranean area. It should favour the
development of renewable energy and be based on the
EU acquis. Several projects are already underway which
seek to do just that, for example that with Euro-Mediterranean
energy regulators (Medreg). We need to develop these
I already mentioned that we are putting
in place policies to enable us to reach our 20% renewable
target by 2020. We should share this experience with
Mediterranean partners as we are doing with the Regional
Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
And finally, we must facilitate the
development and adoption of modern technologies. European
industry is a world leader in this area and the EU
member states have some of the world’s largest solar
power plants. Germany alone accounts for about half
of the solar power capacity in the world. Europe can
therefore share its best practice and the technological
know how, whilst continuing to support research and
development of the best business models and industrial
partnerships for the development of solar energy.
The Commission is currently supporting such initiatives
through the 7th Framework Programme for research in
Commission action is important, but
to make the Mediterranean Solar Plan a real success,
we need the active engagement of all stakeholders
– government, industry, and researchers. To this end,
it may be useful to consider convening a high level
event to provide a platform for a thorough discussion
and decisions on the way forward.
The last point I wanted to make, is
how the Mediterranean Solar Plan fits into our wider
Energy Strategy in the region.
Energy issues have of course long been
a priority of Euro-Mediterranean relations.
We have regular meetings of Energy Ministers
– the most recent, and 5th since the start of Barcelona
Process, was held in December 2007. We have a Priority
Action Plan for Sustainable Energy Development to
2013 which covers: the promotion of renewable energies;
improved convergence of energy policies; integration
of energy markets in the Euro-Mediterranean region;
and the development of energy infrastructures of common
The European Commission already finances
a Regional Program and projects under the Neighbourhood
Investment Facility to support these aims, as well
as a regular coordination mechanism in the form of
an Experts Group of the Euro-Mediterranean Energy
I have personally promoted these energy
objectives during visits to Egypt, Algeria, Morocco
and Libya and signed numerous agreements with Mediterranean
countries that include an energy component.
The Mediterranean Solar Plan is then
just one strand – if a vital new one - in our wider
strategy for enhancing energy security.
I’d like to close, if I may, with a
few words of Martin Luther King which seem to me to
perfectly sum up the importance of the climate change/energy
security issues we are dealing with today:
“We are now faced with the fact that
tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce
urgency of now...There is such a thing as being too
late...We may cry out desperately for time to pause
... but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on.
Over the bleached bones ...of numerous civilizations
are written the pathetic words - “too late”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the most recent
data on climate change show that changes are happening
far faster than predicted and that the Mediterranean
region will be particularly affected. The risk of
our being “too late” is real. That means the shift
to green energy has to happen now. Delivering on the
Mediterranean Solar Plan is one step in that direction.
Thank you for your attention.