Desertec is such major visions that to me it always sounded like a dream of the far future – in fact it seems that Europe will import its first solar-generated electricity from North Africa within the next five years!
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger confirmed the plan after a meeting with energy ministers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and he thinks that the first pilot projects will deliver some hundreds of megawatts to consumers in Europe. In the long run, the EUR400 billion (USD495 billion) Desertec project will bring thousands of megawatts of clean renewable electricity from North Africa to the European market.
Of course, such a huge vision needs much time and even more money, but over the next 20 to 40 years billions of Euros will build massive power plants of wind and solar energy. Powerful solar radiation could contribute reaching the EU’s target of 20% renewable energy by 2020.
The EU is backing the construction of inter-connectors, electricity cables under the Mediterranean Sea to carry the load from production in Africa to consumption in Europe. The EU is also likely to assist in coordinating stakeholders and update regulations as to suit this transfer of energy across borders and continents.
Financing is also on the EU’s agenda; public money, subsidies and the possibility of state aid to firms involved in the project will be discussed once the consortium has presented a detailed business plan. The consortium includes major global players like Siemens, RWE and Deutsche Bank. Right now it appears that the EU will assist the plan by financing feasibility studies.
At the meeting in Algiers North African energy ministers also discussed the nature of the relationship between the two continents. Concerns were raised that once again Europe could exploit Africa’s natural resources. Oettinger countered by explaining that “Renewables are a two-way partnership because electricity produced here is for the home market of North African countries.” The African ministers sent a signal they were willing to build the infrastructure and common market rules needed to allow a trade in renewable electricity with Europe.
The consensus is that all parties can profit from the project, because even if a bigger part of electricity is imported to the European market, it will also fulfill the energy needs of the local market. At the same time, technology, tools, machines and experts will be “exported” to the Saharan area and a real partnership is to be established between all parties involved.
Desertec is one of humankind’s biggest visions for the future of our energy systems, and could really be a brilliant opportunity to make use of new and clean technologies while at the same time it can establish fair partnerships across borders and even continents. Such will be the future if we are serious about sustainability.