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Desertec. Solar power from Africa to Europe

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Desertec is a set of plans for a massive network of solar and wind farms stretching across the MENA region and intended to connect to Europe via high voltage direct current transmission cables (which are supposed to only lose 3% of their electricity per 1000km, or 620 miles)

This mammoth and ambitious project plans to power much of Europe mostly using concentrated solar power from Middle East and Africa. CSP reflects the sun to a central power where it powers turbines. Excess heat can be stored in molten salt and used later to create energy but Desertec won’t be doing that. Instead, the turbines will be powered at night by natural gas. However power from fossil fuels is limited to 27% of output.

That’s just one of the many problems and challenges that Desertec faces. It’s unclear what MENA would get from this or whether it would just be colonialism and exploitation. CSP is losing popularity in the States as it is more expensive than photovoltaic and uses considerable amounts of water. And indeed, water would be used to cool Desertec heat transfer fluids and to clean the reflectors, all of this in deserts. Finally, sandstorms could certainly damage the reflectors and maintenance would be continual.

The cost would be huge, $500 billion or more. But the most troubling part of all this is Desertec doesn’t appear to have asked MENA nations what they think. At the very least, MENA should get to keep substantial amounts of power for themselves and to get major income from it too.

  • Pat H

    I read about this in the Guardian earlier this month and thought it sounded like a good idea–for the first few paragraphs. It seems like there are just too many practical, technological, financial and political barriers to completion.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/11/sahara-solar-panels-green-electricity?INTCMP=SRCH

    And if Desertec did succeed in building and operating this network of plants in MENA, how long do you think it would take for OPEC to be superseded by a new entity: the Organization of Energy Producing Countries(OEEC)?

    • Sandstorms seem the biggest technical barrier and them not apparently bothering to even consult with MENA nations guarantees political problems.

  • Having all or most of your energy produced outside your own borders must make you vulnerable, especially if it is in an area of turmoil and change. How difficult would it be to knock-out a few solar panels in a vast desert area?

    • One of the reasons for Desertec is so they aren’t dependable on pipelines going through areas controlled by Russia. They are upfront about saying this.

      So instead they want the power in areas where quite possibly, the country might just nationalize it.

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