Energy Update: Desertec Foundation Walks Away from Solar and Wind Project Consortium

The DESERTEC Foundation was launched in 2009 to harness the solar energy falling on the desert to light the world and solve the world’s impending freshwater crisis. But this week the foundation, consisting of scientists, business and government, has had a falling out with the industrial consortium, Dii, the folks who are supposed to execute the plan to turn the words and ideals into reality.

Dii’s strategy, known as Desert Power 2050, is focused on wind, photovoltaics and solar thermal power generation in the region it calls EUMENA, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Dii’s goal is an integrated energy market of producing nations located in sunny North Africa and the Middle East, hooked up through a Mediterranean super-grid to a rainy and low-solar Europe (see map below).




The plan envisioned an initial super power line under the Mediterranean connecting from Africa through Italy to Europe. That would be followed by additional cross Mediterranean grid infrastructure to link power-hungry Europe with the North African and Middle East producters.

Dii has set an initial target of 50 Gigawatts of power generation by 2020 with the potential to grow to 800 Gigawatts by 2050. This is to be accomplished with Concentrated Solar Photovoltaic (CSP), wind, and photovoltaic (PV) plants. They would cover 40,000 square kilometers (15,444 square miles) or about a land area the combined size of the states of Maryland and Delaware.

Dii, however, has been accused from the get go of being two Eurocentric and that it is ignoring the considerations of those in the desert countries that will be the producers. They too will need the power since many of them are not oil producers, and many want to cut greenhouse gas emissions and are looking to a renewable even if today they are pumping oil.

Dii was originally formed by a dozen of Europe’s leading engineering firms. It has since grown to more than 50 companies. But late last year Bosch and Siemens, two leading German member companies, dropped out. And the Arab Spring throughout North Africa has further disrupted Dii plans and muddied the waters.

Now the foundation that inspired the creation of Dii, , DESERTEC is dropping out. It is not clear now how DESERTEC, without Dii to execute the plans, can continue to be a catalyst in driving forward sustainable, renewable power from desert countries. Without the engineering firms to turn its dream into reality it will be little more than an academic exercise.

Just a few months ago DESERTEC and Dii announced the building in Abu Dhabi of a 100-Megawatt Shams-1 emission-free power station, seen below, consisting of 260,000 parabolic mirrors. At the time nothing seemed amiss. But now will future projects like Shams-1 now be in jeopardy? Will the desert states, many not oil and gas producers, find themselves incapable of funding such projects essential for their own energy self sufficiency? What will happen with the export plan to feed Europe, the natural customer for any excess power generation?

The Fourth Dii Desert Energy Conference is planned for Rabat, Morocco in late October of this year. It will be interesting to see if the dream to energize the desert will survive without its intellectual founders. Somehow I think it will because there is a lot of money at stake.


Shams-1 Dii project


A Postscript

This is the 500th posting on 21st Century Tech Blog. It would not have happened if it weren’t for you my readers who have encouraged me to continue researching and writing about the science and technology that is moving us forward this century. Please keep dropping by and I promise I won’t disappoint.

— Len Rosen


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.