Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Management row threatens to blow Sahara solar dream

Cross-posted from the Nature News blog on behalf of Quirin Schiermeier.

Plans to supply Europe with electricity generated in North Africa suffered another blow this week when the DESERTEC Foundation, set up in 2009 to promote the idea, pulled out of the industrial consortium which is trying to advance the €400-billion (US$514-billion) project.

The split, agreed upon during an extraordinary DESERTEC board meeting on 27 June, is the climax of growing tensions between the founders of the project and the Dii consortium — including Deutsche Bank and German energy utilities Eon and RWE — over management and strategy issues. Solar power capacities are expanding throughout North Africa and the Middle East — but Dii has recently scaled back ambitions, hinting to political and technical problems with transmitting massive amounts of electricity from North Africa to Europe.

The DESERTEC foundation — sole owner of the project’s brand name — has been increasingly unhappy with how internal discussions over the future of the project leaked to the press.

“It was always clear to us that our idea of producing electricity from the deserts (…) was never an easy task and will always face extreme challenges,” Thiemo Gropp, director of the DESERTEC Foundation, said in a statement.

“However, after many months filled with a lot of discussions we had to conclude that the DESERTEC Foundation needs to preserve its independence. [Our exit] is the result of many irresolvable disputes between the two entities in the area of future strategies, obligations and their communication.”

Gropp said the dispute has “negatively affected” DESERTEC’s reputation but he did not rule out future cooperation between the two organizations.

Analysts have repeatedly criticized the project as too big and expensive. Pulling the plug on its loss-making solar business, German engineering giant Siemens, based in Munich, quit Dii last year. Technology supplier Bosch, based in Stuttgart, also pulled out last year.

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