Europe to be powered by solar energy from Africa in 10 years?!
Twenty blue chip companies from Germany, among them Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and the energy companies RWE and E.on, have agreed on forming a consortium with the plan of harnessing solar power in the deserts of Northern Africa to power Europe. The consortium will be known under the name Desertec.
The first step of the project will be to attract additional sponsors across Europe to cover the project costs of approximately €400bn (US$550bn).
We want to found an initiative which over the next two to three years will put concrete measures on the table.
Even though no exact details about the individual involvements of the companies is available, the participating companies have stressed that Desertec is supposed to bring them to the top of the green technology industry and contribute significantly to combating climate change.
According to the European Commission's Institute for Energy, if just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts was captured, it could provide all of Europe's energy needs.
The plan intends to establish several solar fields across Northern Africa, however, only in politically stable countries. Algeria, Morocco and Libya have been mentioned as possible locations.
The technique called "concentrating solar power" or CSP, uses banks of mirrors to focus the sun's rays in a central column filled with water. The rays heat the water, vaporising the it into a steam which is then used to drive turbines which generate carbon-free electricity.
The energy would then be fed via high-voltage direct current (DC) transmission lines over thousands of miles to Europe - traditional AC lines are far too inefficient.
Scientists in general agree that the project is technically realistic; yet there is doubt about the finances since the power would have to be transported over several hundreds of miles, a distance that has, using solar energy, never been attempted before.
The €400bn investment would be enough to cover 15% of Europe's electricity requirements, according to Jeworrek. He added "in technical terms this project can be realised" but stressed in order for it to be sustainable it would have to finance itself in the long-run and be competitive within 10 to 15 years.
Further, also concerns have arised about the advantages of the project.
Scheer was also critical of the fact that the project would "duplicate the current system" whereby energy distribution is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. "We should be looking instead at decentralising the system, and looking closer to home for our energy supplies, such as solar panels on homes or harnessing wind energy on the coasts, or inland," he said.
Yet, it has been questioned to what extent this argument may be directed at keeping business in Europe and, consequently, preventing outsourcing to Africa.
"Desert power from solar thermal power plants would be cheaper and there would be a constant supply. But Germany's solar lobby apparently wants to teach environmentally aware consumers that solar power is good when it is generated domestically with billions in subsidies. And it's bad when it comes from projects that benefit the poor in Africa.