Desertec Becoming a Reality

The Desertec Industrial Initiative, a €400 billion renewable energy project, has gained momentum this month with the addition of a new partners and a strategic adviser.

The announcement of the Joining of First Solar on 16 March has propelled Desertec into soon becoming a reality providing solar energy, up to 15 percent of Europe’s energy. If completed by the projected date in 2012, this would create a network of sustainable energy regions not only in Europe but in North Africa and the Middle East as well.

Since its launch on 13 July 2009, the $550 billion initiative has gained a great deal of momentum incorporating countries from the MENA region (Middle East North Africa) as well as the recent addition of five more companies from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy.

Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) said it appointed Professor Klaus Toepfer as strategic adviser. From 1998 to 2006, Toepfer was executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi. Prior to that, he was a member of the German federal government for more than 10 years, seven of these as federal minister for the environment, nature conservation and Nuclear Safety. Furthermore, Toepfer was appointed the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Climate, Earth System and Sustainability Sciences (IASS) in Potsdam, which was set up in 2009.

Desertec Industrial Initiative was launched by 12 European companies in Munich a year after the Mediterranean Solar-Plan, which was signed on 13 July 2008 at the Union of the Mediterranean Summit. Since the DII was launched, the focus has been in creating demonstration projects in Morocco and working with governments in making sure the laws put in place allow the export of renewable energy.

Founding companies include: Munich Re, TREC, Deutche Bank, Siemens, ABB, Abengoa Solar, E.ON, HSH Nordbank, Cevital, M&W Zander Holding, Schott Solar, and MAN Solar Millennium. Dr. Bernd Utz, chief technology officer of the Renewable Energy Division of Siemens told MediaGlobal, "The main challenge is the political framework. We need strong political support in Northern Africa, Europe and in the Middle East. In 2012 we want to present a politically approved concept of how this vision can become reality."

DII uses carefully positioned mirrors in the Sahara desert to boil water and activate turbines. According to the Desertec Foundation, the technology of the solar project is based on a concentrated solar power plant (CSP). This works just like a coal steam power plant except that instead of coal, the power plant operates solely on concentrated solar power. The mirrors work to reflect and concentrate solar energy, which are transmitted to Europe and Africa by a super grid of high-voltage direct power cables.

Prof. Udo Ungeheuer, Chairman of the Management Board of SCHOTT AG told MediaGlobal, "Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology is a crucial element of the Desertec project. SCHOTT has been involved in this type of solar technology from the very beginning. Today, our receivers form the heart of solar power plants that utilize parabolic trough technology. They can be found in the Nevada Solar One power plant located near Las Vegas as well as the Andasol power plant in Spain, the first commercial power plant of its kind in Europe. We consider ourselves to be the global leaders in terms of both technology and market share with our solar receivers."

Should DII be successful, there are many advantages of the solar energy project. Besides combating climate change, power plants would create jobs and improve the economic development of the local communities. Desertec would also enhance infrastructure, thus, providing electricity to communities, which have previously not had access.

Alexander Mohanty Spokesman of DII-Enabling Desertec in EUMENA told MediaGlobal, "For some countries it can lead to the reversal of capital flows in the energy sector. They will get the opportunity to sell power and to generate income rather than having the need to buy coal, oil or gas. Other countries no longer have to exploit their fossil resources and they have the option of leaving these resources to future generations without loss of income."

Critics of DII have expressed concern over the view that the project may be too ambitious. However, the amount of money that has been raised is astounding. Furthermore, the recent interest in Desertec by prominent leaders and companies outside of Europe suggest that the international community is taking the solar project very seriously. Desertec Industrial Initiative is only valuable granted both the MENA region and Europe mutually benefit. If this happens, the positive contributions to the rest of the world will be significant.