The annual production that can be produced from wind force in good wind regions, with large wind parks can be as high as 0.1 to 0.15 TWhel/km² [Tezlaff 1999]. The establishment of wind turbines with a power density of 7 MW/km² could produce about 0.028 TWh/km² per year in good locations on the Saharan coastline. Although close arrangements of wind turbines tends to weaken the global supply of energy of a Wind Park, wide space availability for large-scale wind installations enables an optimal wind turbine spacing ratio to be applied.
A wind turbine spacing of only 2.4 MW/km² on parts of the 2000 kilometers long coastline from Morocco to Senegal could potentially generate a production of more than 1000 TWh per year. This would be sufficient to cover close to one-third of the entire electricity needs of the European Union estimated at 3200 TWh.
This very large potential represents several dozen times the electrical requirements of the North African countries combined, and cannot be utilized locally. The distances of North African electric load centers are indeed quite remote from this region. The access to these renewable energy potentials requires the use of different technologies currently available only for much higher energy transfer capabilities, that the size of North African load centers simply cannot absorb.
High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines for instance, would allow vast amounts of electricity (in the GW range) to be transported from North Africa into a Euro-Mediterranean electricity market at minimal losses. Hence, a significant share of Europe’s wind energy production would be complemented by the use of these large productive sites, making wind energy more affordable.
Comparative advantages rather than a mere displacement of European wind energy productions would be achieved, as the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission technologies used would contribute to stabilize surrounding grids on both ends. This will enable additional quantities of wind energy from local sources to be fed into a more stable grid. The advantages of integrating wind resources on a continental basis become even more obvious, as the seasonal distribution of winds in terms of peak power productions are quite complementary. While winter highs are characteristics of European wind energy generations, the Saharan Trade Winds have their peak production in the summer season. This is particularly relevant in Southern Europe where the tourism driven economy induces higher electricity consumptions at this time a year. These could be matched by a carbon-free renewable source of wind energy generated at competitive prices.
Seasonal trends in Reanalysis wind speed (Source EU data: TradeWind Project Doc. 11914/BT/01C)
These perspectives highlighted by the 5GW Sahara Wind Project have been presented at the European Parliament in 2002. While EU and North-African regulations have since made some progress, the phased deployment of local wind capacities through the Sahara Wind project will contribute to improve the economic prospects of marginal desert regions. Absent such integrated project development perspectives, these areas dispose of very limited endogenous development possibilities.
The Sahara wind resource that spreads through thousands of kilometers on the Atlantic coastline, will take some time to be effectively assessed. From production figures and measurements collected on a regional basis, it represents one of the world's largest untapped sources of wind energy. The size of this territory, the availability of the wind, and the geographical proximity of this region to feed the growing North-African and significant European electricity markets respectively are very promising. Such vast wind resource may have already impacted the future of wind energy beyond this area, in supporting a broader renewable energy transition.