Kate Mackenzie The next challenge for that €400bn desert solar plan

Can you spare a few euros for Desertec?

At an estimated cost of €400bn, you might think the first challenge for the ambitious plan to cover much of the Sahara with solar thermal plants and wind farms to power Europe would be raising the money.

Some impressive German names are among those forming a company to explore the further challenges of the task: Siemens, Eon, Munich Re, Deutsche Bank, and RWE are all members of an industrial initiative launched today. Some of them are quite optimistic about the prospects: Siemen’s chief executive Wolfgang Dehen says the plans, which rely on solar thermal concentrating plants and high-voltage cables, are ‘technically feasible for the first time’ after being talked about for 30 years.

Although the website for Desertec, which is a non-profit organisation set up by Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, is taking donations via Paypal, no-one’s talking about money to actually build the project yet.

The next challenge is politics: getting all the prospective member countries on board. The second version of their ‘red paper’ is all about getting political support from across the ‘EUMENA’ region (Europe, Middle East, and North Africa), through the auspices of the Union for the Mediterranean. Indeed this union mentioned a ‘Mediterranean solar energy plan’ as one of its key goals; unfortunately for Dersertec however, the Union for the Mediterranean itself, although it includes the crucial North African and Middle Eastern states counted in the Desertec project, is only in its very formative stages. It was only announced a year ago and a recent Ecofin meeting on the subject focused mostly on what it would not be.

Desertec argues that there would be benefits for those in the source countries:

The development and trading of energy from renewable sources will boost economic development in these regions and creates local jobs in the production of collectors as well as in the construction of solar power plants: For example, the construction of only one 250
MW parabolic trough power plant requires 1,000 workers and engineers for a period of two to three years.

And what about security of supply? Other parts of the energy industry are used to it, they say:

With regard to investments, it is pertinent to point out that large investments are currently  being made in Middle Eastern and Northern African countries by the oil industry, not unduly  disturbed by any worries about security.

Related links:

Solar power plants proposed for Sahara (FT, 12/07/09)
Solar energy from the sand – a snip at €400bn (FT Energy Source, 16/06/09)