Climate Feedback

Europe looks to draw power from the Sahara

Cross-posted from The Great Beyond

A gargantuan plan of supplying European consumers with electricity generated in the Saharan desert could see the light of day earlier than even the most optimistic solar energy aficionados had expected.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a group of 20 large German companies, led by the reinsurance giant Munich Re, and also including Siemens, Deutsche Bank and RWE, is determined to go ahead with an €400 billion project known as Desertec. If fully realized, the envisaged network of huge solar thermal power plants across North Africa could provide up to 15 % of Europe’s overall electricity needs by mid-century.

Next month already, the group plans to create a consortium that is to look in more detail into the technical and financial feasibility of the envisaged project. Developing concrete plans could take two to three years, Torsten Jeworek, a Munich Re board member, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Creating solar power in the Sahara Desert, and transmitting the electricity to consumers through massive grids, has been previously proposed as a means to lessen Europe’s dependence on fossil and nuclear energy. But the immense costs, unresolved technical problems, and not least concerns over political stability in the region, made it seem unlikely that the plans would materialize any time soon.

The German group plans to reach out to public and private partners in Europe and North Africa (and possibly the Middle East) who might be interested in joining the initiative. Its champions point out that the vast Saharan Desert receives far more energy from the sun than humans consume in one year. If only a small fraction could be utilized for generating solar power it would easily suffice to meet Africa’s and Europe’s combined electricity demand.

The German Greens applaud the plan. “If the likes of RWE and Munich Re do something sensible for a change we should be pleased, rather than questioning a good idea just because the ‘wrong people’ are involved,” says Hans-Josef Fell, the party’s energy spokesman.

Quirin Schiermeier


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