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Breeze in the med

Ask a member of the European industry to name wind power's future growth markets and China will be the first word uttered, followed by the United States, countries in eastern Europe, a reference to India and perhaps to France too. Overlooked, in all likelihood, will be the potentially huge market right on the back doorstep of most of the world's wind equipment suppliers -- the emerging economies of the Mediterranean's southern and eastern coasts. Yet, as our special report this month points out (pages 85-106), most countries in that group are actively working on putting their wind energy resources to work. Between them, they are already calling for more than 50 GW of wind plant.

The countries lining the North African coast and to the east of Italy have generally been enjoying rapid economic growth for the past five years. According to The Economist, a news magazine, the region is attracting foreign direct investment on a scale only second to China among emerging economies. Demand for electricity is ratcheting up. Given rising fossil fuel prices, strong Mediterranean winds and large areas of empty land, the focus on wind power, from Morocco to Egypt, to Turkey to Greece, is hardly surprising. Even Israel is repowering its first wind plant on the Golan Heights and looking for more.

If all that wind power is to be efficiently harnessed, a regional market, preferably with strong transmission links, is essential. An early initiative, Medring, started with a 400 kV submarine cable between Morocco and Spain in 1998, but has since foundered. The latest plan is to develop a regulatory framework for efficient cross border trade of electricity, with further subsea links, such as between Italy and Tunisia, where they make sense. The European Commission and Eurelectric, which represents Europe's established electricity industry, are working at a regulatory level on a pan-European and Mediterranean market for free trade of electrons. On the Mediterranean's southern shores, getting transmission built and electricity produced is the more immediate concern.

New impetus on the whole issue may come from the Union for the Mediterranean, initiated by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and created in July. Dubbed Club Med, one of its key strategy areas is the energy sector, with a Euro-Med Power Pool to reduce costs, conserve energy and lower emissions under discussion. Solar power has held the limelight so far. Wind is likely to shape the future.

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