Desertech sun rises

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A £240bn plan for Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) projects in North Africa has moved a step closer to reality with the formation of a German led consortium of 12 companies, the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), which aims to provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 or earlier, via HVDC power lines across the desert and under the Mediterranean. Led by re-insurer Munich Re, it includes Siemens, E.ON, ABB and Deutsche Bank. Munich Re says that extreme weather events related to climate change have the potential to be uninsurable against within a few decades: ‘To keep our business model alive in 30 or 40 years we have to ensure things are still insurable’. It now believes the DII can start to deliver solar power to Europe as early as 2015.

According to the Guardian (1/11/09) ‘Desertec has gained broad support across Europe, with the newly elected German coalition government of Angela Merkel hoping the project could offset its dependence on Russian gas supplies. North African governments are said to be keen, too, to further exploit their natural resources.

Algeria and Libya are already big oil and gas suppliers to Europe.’ It noted that only some of the output would be exported, the rest would be used locally, but ‘North Africa has a small population relative to the size of its deserts. For similar reasons Australia is putting together its own Desertec initiative.’ And it quoted Dan Lewis, head of a new thinktank, the Economic Policy Centre: ‘This is just the sort of long-term, big-difference, energy security gain project that our UK short-term targets and policy framework can’t deliver.

Instead, we’re spending ridiculous sums on no-hoper, marginal stuff like fusion energy and a massive smart meter rollout, that at best will only shave a fraction off peak demand.’

However, as we discussed in Renew 182, not everyone is keen on mega projects like this, particular since they look like being dominated by large consortium whose aim may be to keep electricity generation large scale and centralised, so they can retain market control. Fair trading will be vital to avoid exploitation and neo-colonial land grabs.

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