Harnessing the desert sun to power Europe  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The BBC has an update on Desertec's "deserts of gold" scheme for generating large amounts of solar thermal power in North Africa - Harnessing desert sun to power Europe.

It is a beguiling idea - harvest sunshine, and a little wind, from the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and use it to produce clean power for the region and for Europe.

Desertec, a group based in Germany with heavyweight commercial backers including Siemens and Deutsche Bank, says the scheme would also bring the regions around the Mediterranean closer together, while providing jobs and stability for the countries in the south.

It has chosen Morocco, which is embarking on its own ambitious solar programme, for its first "reference" project - a plant meant to show that its grand vision is feasible.

Desertec expects to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014.

But its stated goal - using desert power to supply up to 100% of local needs and up to 15% of European demand by 2050 - has attracted critics who question whether such a vision is possible, or even necessary.

No-one doubts the physical potential of the desert to generate renewable power.

According to a study by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), a state agency that provided data used by Desertec, less than 1% of suitable land in the North Africa and the Middle East would be needed to cover the current electricity consumption of the region, as well as Europe.

Many countries with intense sunshine also have large tracts of uninhabited land.

But creating a power network presents a series of formidable problems, from nomads stealing solar components to the technological and political challenges of transporting and delivering electricity over such a vast area.

Paul Van Son, the Desertec Industrial Initiative's chief executive, stresses that his group has no detailed blueprint, but aims instead to create the broad conditions for a solar network to be developed.

"There is nothing which is unrealistic," he says.

"It's already happening today, there are installations in the deserts, solar installations, wind parks - it all works.

"There are electrical grids from Tunisia, Algeria for instance and Morocco to Spain and Europe. It's possible to transport electricity over long, long distances."

Desertec points to a pair of cables already installed between Morocco and Spain - though for now these are carrying power from north to south.

It says it will work closely with Medgrid, a French scheme to enable the construction of a Mediterranean transmission system.

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