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Desertec plan to power Europe with Africa renewable energy blows up

Credit: Desertec Foundation

Credit: Desertec Foundation

An internal dispute over governance has irrevocably split two major bodies in Desertec. Their plan was to have massive amounts of renewable energy in the Middle East and North Africa power Europe. Among the problems were the scope of the project, internal disputes, plunging costs of solar photovoltaics, charges of colonialism, and building ginormous water-slurping solar thermal plants in deserts.

Their vision of Desertec is huge and laudable. I hope someday it happens, so long as the countries in MENA are well-paid for the use of their land and are equal partners.

The non-governmental Foundation, which is the main idea- and name-giver for the DESERTEC concept, is taking this step as a result of many irresolvable disputes between the two entities in the area of future strategies, obligations and their communication and last but not least the managerial style of Dii’s top management. DESERTEC Foundation also wants to avoid being dragged into the maelstrom of negative publicity about the management crisis and disorientation of the industrial consortium. The dispute at the management level has already led to resentment among the partners of the DESERTEC Foundation and it negatively affects our reputation and trust. This is what the DESERTEC Foundation intends to avoid.

Desertec plan to power Europe from North Africa solar in peril

Desertec is a consortium of large corporations and governments that wants to build humongous concentrated solar power plants in North Africa and the Middle East that would power Europe.

I’ve always thought the Desertec plan was a bit dicey, given the its obvious overtones of colonialism and exploitation coupled with using CSP rather than photovoltaic. CSP reflects the heat of the sun to a central tower where it drives steam turbines and requires large amounts of water, something which is always in short supply in deserts.

Siemens and Bosch have recently pulled out of the plan and Spain is balking, citing costs.

“The governments get cold feet for one reason, Desertec needs too much support in tax money – all the public budgets are over borrowed – and tax money is not easily available,” [German Green MP] Mr Fell said.

Possible funding from China appears to be the last chance for Desertec.

Desertec plans for massive concentrating solar power in Morocco

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The huge European consortium Desertec has signed a memorandum with Morocco to build concentrating solar plants in Morocco. While their plan is admirable – build solar power plants in deserts in North Africa and the Middle East to create energy for those areas and Europe, concentrating solar power has always seem an odd choice to me.

Photovoltaic is much cheaper now and uses tiny amounts of water. Concentrating solar reflects the sun’s heat to a central point where it is used to power steam engines. Steam, of course, requires water, something deserts generally don’t have much of, especially considering Desertec wants to do this on a ginormous scale.

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.

Solar power from Sahara to Europe within 5 years

If just one percent of the Saharan Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world. That’s a powerful number, and the European Union has decided to jump on their proximity to the Sahara in order to reap some benefits from the untapped solar energy beaming down on Northern Africa.

This could be huge both for Europe, getting a huge supply of renewable energy (and thus needing to import less petroleum), as well as for Africa, who get will energy for themselves as well as a major new source of revenue.

This is part of the massive Desertec plan, backed by major corporations, in which Europe will transition to renewable energy by 2050.

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