x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sahara desert to supply Europe with green energy

International A consortium to pursue a ?395 billion project to supply Europe with solar and wind power from the Sahara desert is launched in Munich.

The Sahara could supply up to 15 per cent of Europe's energy requirements from solar and windfarms, if a new consortium of mostly German corporations gets its way.
The Sahara could supply up to 15 per cent of Europe's energy requirements from solar and windfarms, if a new consortium of mostly German corporations gets its way.

A dozen companies, mainly from Germany, have agreed to pursue a ?395 billion (Dh2.02 trillion) project to supply Europe with solar and wind power from the Sahara desert. Project backers of the Desertec Industrial Initiative say recent technological advances and expected cost savings are close to making the complex development, long viewed by its detractors as an expensive fantasy, practical. "The project has been on the drawing board for 30 years and now, for the first time, it has become technically feasible," said Wolfgang Dehen, the chief executive of Siemens Energy, a unit of the German electrical equipment maker and engineering firm Siemens. The memorandum of understanding signed in Munich by Siemens, the German insurer Munich Re, Deutsche Bank and the German utilities RWE and E.On, among others, foresees the initiative supplying 15 to 20 per cent of Europe's electricity by 2050. The group has agreed to develop a technical and financial concept for the development. The Desertec Foundation, which the Club of Rome, an international think tank, founded to promote the project, envisages widening the initiative to include renewable power projects in other regions, including the Gulf. The project would link hundreds of solar thermal power plants and wind farms in sparsely populated desert regions into a robust electrical grid capable of supplying reliable power exports to Europe's population centres. Its backbone would be a ?45bn electricity supergrid covering Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Political interest in Desertec is high after last week's summit of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialised nations in L'Aqulila, Italy. There, international leaders set a target of cutting worldwide carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 to limit global warming. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, are Desertec supporters due to the project's potential for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from power generation. Investor interest from outside the founding group is also growing. There is "an insane amount of interest" in the project from other companies, including some in the Middle East, said Alexander Moranti, a spokesman for Munich Re. Eventually, Desertec would evolve into an "open and international" group of participants, Mr Moranti predicted. But in addition to its high price tag, the project faces substantial hurdles. "The technology is ready to go and investors are interested. What are we waiting for?" the Desertec Foundation asks in a policy paper. "Very simple: in the sunbelt countries and in client countries, changes are needed in government policies and in the relevant laws and regulations to create a favourable commercial environment for Desertec developments." tcarlisle@thenational.ae