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North Africa’s deserts could provide 15% of Europe’s electricity

A large number of networked solar thermal power plants in the Middle East and North Africa could produce sufficient renewable power to meet around 15% of Europe’s electricity needs and large parts of the power needs of the producer countries.

The plans were announced alongside the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to set up DESERTEC Industrial Initiative (DII) on 13 July. The objective of the DII is to analyse and develop the technical, economic, political, social and ecological framework for renewable power generation such as solar thermal plants and windfarms in the deserts of North Africa.

Investment plans for the renewable solar and wind energy plants could be ready by 2012. Caio Koch-Weser, Vice Chairman at Deutsche Bank, one of the founding companies of DII, says: “We are pleased to participate in the Desertec Industrial Initiative and explore with our partners the feasibility of this trailblazing project. The Initiative shows in what dimensions and on what scale we must think if we are to master the challenges from climate change both in ecological and economic terms.”

Siemens, another founding company, says the plans could include solar thermal power plants in the Sahara desert, windfarms in North Africa, and transmission lines to load centres where the power is needed.

According to Siemens, the “earth’s desert regions receive more energy in a mere 6 hours than mankind consumes within an entire year.”

The Sahara desert alone has 4800 sun hours per year – roughly three times of what Germany can boast. Siemens says solar power plants covering an area of 300 km x 300 km could meet worldwide energy needs.

Siemens also addresses some of the questions about transmission of the renewable solar and wind energy saying that the electricity generated would have to be transported a distance of around 2000 km from North Africa to Europe, and that high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission technologies are probably the safest bet as they keep 95% of the energy intact.

Siemens is already deploying an HVDC project in China, which involves the transmission of 5 GW from hydropower plants to load centres 1400 km away.

The money

Torsten Jeworrek, board member of Munich RE, has said the investment for the renewable solar and wind energy plans in North Africa would amount to less than €1000 per European inhabitant, according to a Reuters report.

Guenter Gloser, Germany’s deputy foreign minister was also quoted as saying that initial funding for the project would include €1 billion from the European Union. Another source said a further €4bn is currently being sought.

The founding companies of DII, which will be established on 31 October, are:

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Energy infrastructure  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity  •  Wind power  •  World Future Energy Summit