This Monday twelve European companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Munich. This will begin planning the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) targeted at providing fifteen percent of Europe’s electricity requirements through a solar power plant network in the desert of North Africa by 2050. They have allowed themselves three years to work out a technical concept, the time scale and the finances.
The Desertec Industial Initiative project, which envisions relatively low-tech solar thermal power (using mirrors in the desert) rather than an array of high-tech photovoltaic cells. This is called concentrating solar power where large amounts of sunlight are focused onto a small area. This creates extremely high levels of heat which can be converted into electricity using a steam turbine or a stirling engine. Also, the waste heat from the electricity generation could be used to provide desalinated water to dry regions, and the shade of the mirrors could facilitate horticulture in areas usually too hot to support it. The idea of the solar thermal plant dates back to 1972, when the Club of Rome released the controversial ‘The Limits to Growth’, one of the earliest modern predictions that global demographics and global resources were unevenly matched.
The companies involved are mainly German companies, among them; Siemens, Münchener Rück , Deutsche Bank and energy company RWE. How much money each company will deposit towards this project is not as yet known. The partners hope to get a 1 billion euro funding from the European Commission to get them started. The total costs of the project have been estimated at 400 billion Euros, which will be spent on the grid infrastructure needed to carry the vast amounts of electricity north from Africa to Europe.
A very ambitious and expensive plan, which in theory should work. Scientists even say that less than 1% of the world’s deserts would provide enough space to produce as much electricity as the world currently consumes.
But one step at a time.