The last few years have not been particularly kind to renewable energy efforts in the Mediterranean. Once home to solar and wind pioneers, the region’s energy sector has had a rough go of it lately thanks to a toxic mix of poor planning, economic uncertainty and political turmoil.
The challenges vary from area and to area, from Spain’s shortsighted tariff system to North Africa’s insufficient infrastructure to Greece’s crisis of confidence, but the question remains the same – how will renewable energy survive and even thrive in such a brutal political and financial landscape? And if it does, what version of solar, wind, biomass or wave energy will emerge from it all?
On the surface, and especially in the eyes of foreign investors, the region is dead in the water – a sad casualty of overconfidence, grandiose ideas and unreliable political actors. The risks are just not worth the increasingly meager pay-off. At best, investors have adopted a wait-and-see approach to see if Southern Europe can put their finances in order and North Africa can provide enough post-Arab Spring stability to warrant a closer look. At worst, they’ve declared whole countries off-limits for the foreseeable future.
For the region’s governments, renewable energy has become both a financial burden and a useful political tool. Those struggling to find spending cuts amid stressed economies have found easy answers with lowered or cancelled tariff systems, while others have found ways to use renewable development to tout government progress towards energy and financial independence.
Meanwhile, local consumers have been left to figure out just how to make alternative energy efforts work on an increasingly smaller scale, as government spending and market prices make large-scale distribution a less likely and distance solution.
Still, the Mediterranean is not without some hope. While the financial crisis may have erased any chance of government funding for sprawling solar or wind projects, opportunities for both investors and customers remain. Although uncertainty in the Maghreb may keep large-scale investment at bay, some regional leaders are emerging from the Southern Mediterranean with viable solutions for domestic and international use. The scale and incentives may have changed, but the potential for success has not.
From now on, this space will be dedicated to exploring what policy makers, business leaders and investors are doing to make the most of the renewable market in the modern Mediterranean. I’ll be talking to both critics and advocates of the renewable sector from Tangiers to Tel Aviv to find out what’s working, what’s not and what obstacles still stand in the way of a return of the Mediterranean marketplace.