In this section we show you how to calculate the cost of solar-PV electricity in North Africa and how by using solar PV electricity and hydrogen just a small portion of the land area of North Africa could provide all of the energy needs of Europe.

Assuming we can sort out the politics, and that's a big assumption, the production of hydrogen in North Africa will probably become important in the medium term, i.e. after 2010 and after hydrogen from UK offshore wind power is well established.

But we need to start planning for this now because the political problems are so difficult. These problems will have to be dealt with by the Foreign Office and the EEC and will take years to resolve. However if there is a strong environmental and economic case for developing hydrogen production in North Africa then the political effort will be worthwhile for the benefit of all parties. If successful the development of North Africa as a major source of hydrogen for Europe could improve the well being of all the people living there and change the geopolitics of Europe and Africa.

The key to developing solar-PV electricity generation is to reduce the cost of PV cells by increasing the production volume of cells so that the benefits of mass production can be realised. At present the manufacture of both silicon wafer and amorphous silicon film PV cells is based on production in batches. When the market for PV cells is big enough then the production of amorphous silicon PV cells, or other film technologies, will be an add-on to a dedicated continuous process glass factory and the economics of mass producing glass will apply and costs will tumble. The current batch price for PV cell modules is about US$5 per peak watt whereas the target price for mass production is US$1 per peak watt. When PV cell module costs of the order of US$1 per peak watt is achieved then the economics of generating PV electricity and hydrogen in North Africa can be calculated as follows:

The cost of a PV cell module is expressed as the cost per peak watt output at standard insolation. Standard insolation ( energy from sunlight on a flat surface perpendicular to the suns rays ) is defined as 1 kW per square metre. So a PV cell module costing US$1000 of area 10 square meters with an energy conversion efficiency of 10 % will generate 10 sq.m. x 10% x 1kW/sq.m = 1kW of power when subject to standard insolation and is rated at US$1 per peak watt. ( US$1000 per peak kW )

The typical annual average insolation in North Africa is 0.25 kW per square metre, this averages out night and day and seasonal changes. Therefore in one year a PV cell module rated at US$1 per peak watt ( US$1000 per peak kW ) will generate:

365 days x 24 hours x 0.25 kW/sq.m average insolation
= 2190 kWhs of electricity per $1000 of module cost.


In addition to the cost of the PV cell module there are the costs of the support structure for the module and the wiring and controls needed to run the module and collect the electricity generated, these costs are usually called balance of system costs or BOS costs. For hydrogen production there is no need for an expensive current inverter to be included in the BOS costs because the electrolysis of water requires direct current and PV cells produce direct current. Also land values in desert areas can be set at zero. The BOS costs for PV electricity for hydrogen production would be an extra US$500 per peak kW

So the capital cost of a 1.0 kW peak module plus BOS costs is US$1500

Current PV cells have a life of 20 years so the capital plus interest cost of a 1 kW peak module plus BOS costs would be of the order of US$150 per year (depending on interest rates). As already explained a 1 kW peak cell will produce 2190 kWhs of electricity in one year in North Africa, therefore the cost of the electricity will be approximately:

US$150 x 100 / 2190 = 6.8 cents per kWh.
  = 4.3 pence per kWh.


These predicted costs for PV electricity in North Africa are in the same range as the predicted costs for second generation UK offshore electricity by 2010 and so would make North Africa also a good place to manufacture hydrogen for the UK if 'Green Certificates' for the electricity used could be granted and traded internationally.

Production would have to be on a large scale to make gas pipelines to Europe viable from the start but as we will now illustrate the potential energy resource is vast and could supply the whole of Europe so is well worth considering.

With current technology the conversion efficiency of amorphous silicon PV cell modules will be approximately 10%. This means that 1 square meter of PV cell module in the desert in North Africa will yield:

365 days x 24 hours x 0.25 kW/sq.m average insolation x 10% = 219 kWhs of electrical energy per year.

The PV modules have to be spaced apart to avoid shading and for access and not all parts of an area of land will be suitable and land area is needed for other facilities at a site so assume 25% of the area of a site is the area of PV modules.

Therefore the energy yield from a site is 0.25 x 219 = 55, say 50 kWhrs per square meter per year.

The total energy requirement for transport, electricity and heating in the UK currently supplied by oil, gas, nuclear power and coal is approximately 1500 Terawatthours
(1 TWh is one thousand million kWhs )

Therefore the area of North Africa required to supply the entire energy needs of the UK using PV and hydrogen technology and assuming an efficiency of 70% for the process of using hydrogen as the energy carrier would be:

1500,000,000,000 / 0.70 x 50 x 1000 x 1000 square kilometre = 43,000 sq.kms
  = 19,000 sq.miles
This is the area of a square measuring 207km by 207 km or 138 miles x 138 miles.


The areas of the four countries of North Africa nearest to Europe are as follows:

Morocco 170,000 sq.miles
Algeria 700,000 sq.miles
Tunisia 48,000 sq.miles
Libya 680,000 sq.miles
Total 1,598,000 sq.miles


For comparison, the areas of the European countries are:

England 50,000 sq.miles
France 213,000 sq.miles
Ireland (N & S) 32,000 sq.miles
Spain 194,000 sq.miles
Wales 8,000 sq.miles
Portugal 36,000 sq.miles
Scotland 30,000 sq.miles
Germany 96,000 sq.miles
Total UK 120,000
Italy 116,000 sq.miles



The calculated area of 19,000 sq. miles is only 1.2 % of the area of the four listed North African countries and so it can be seen that there is the potential to get all our energy from North Africa. It therefore makes sense to negotiate and plan to get at least some of our future energy supplies in the form of North African hydrogen. The same consideration applies to the whole of Europe and it would only be possible for the UK to get access to these supplies with the co-operation of at least France because we would need hydrogen pipelines across France.

As a first step, we should co-operate with Spain to build solar PV farms and hydrogen production facilities in S.E. Spain. These facilities could then expand into North Africa.


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Web site Manager Jill Norris