Remarkable Desertec Project Gains Traction
by RONA FRIED, PH.D.
rona fried, Ph.D., is
president of sustainable
business.com, the online
community for green
business: daily green
business and investor
news, green jobs and the
green investing newsletter, The Green Investor.
contact fried at rona@
Over the past few months, the Desertec Industrial Initiative has made impressive progress. The “impractical, pie-in-the-sky” concept, which few
thought would actually take shape, now looks like a visionary and realistic plan for turning much of the Sahara desert into solar fields. Besides providing local clean energy,
it would supply a solid 15 percent of Europe’s energy via
transmission cables laid under the Mediterranean Sea.
Desertec now has 56 partners in 15 countries, and key
projects, including the transmission infrastructure, are falling into place.
In November, Morocco got the go-ahead for a
500-megawatt (MW) concentrating solar power (CSP)
plant. The World Bank will provide $297 million in loans
to help finance the first phase of construction.
The Ouarzazate CSP plant will be the first in Morocco’s $9 billion solar program. Five more plants are planned
between 2015 and 2020 for a total capacity of 2,000 MW.
The plants will, of course, mitigate the country’s greenhouse
gas emissions, while generating home-grown energy for
the first time. Morocco now imports almost all its energy,
mostly oil and coal.
In 2009, the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund
approved a $750 million investment plan for CSP in the
Middle East and North Africa regions. The fund plans to
raise an additional $4.85 billion for projects in Algeria,
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The goal of the fund
Desertec plans to knit concentrating solar power plants in the Sahara to the European grid, via efficient undersea direct current cables.
is to develop 900 MW of CSP in the region by 2020.
In late January, Algeria signed onto an unbelievable
22 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, to be installed
by 2030. Algerian energy company Sonelgaz signed the
agreement with Desertec. Ten GW of that energy will be
exported to Europe.
And Tunisia just joined the Desertec project with an
agreement to build 2 GW of CSP. The mammoth TuNur
solar thermal plant, which will also have thermal storage
capacity to produce electricity into the night, will be six
times larger than any CSP plant built yet. It will supply
energy to about 750,000 homes in Europe.
Mediterranean solar developer Nur Energie will build
the plant. The company will manufacture the plant’s
825,000 heliostats in Tunisia, creating about 20,000 jobs
and spurring investment in solar skills development to
maintain the plants long-term.
Nur Energie has already signed an agreement to deliver
the energy to a grid operator in Italy via ultra-efficient direct
current transmission cables, which only lose about 3 percent of power per 1,000 kilometers.
Desertec and STEG Energies Renouvelables also
signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct pre-feasibility studies for large-scale solar and wind projects
in Tunisia, including their integration into local grids and
export of power to Europe.
The grid-development project, Medgrid, plans to build
transmission cables under the Mediterranean Sea to export about 5 GW of
energy to Europe as early as 2020.
CSP plants are notorious for water
consumption, needed to cool condensers and keep the heliostats clean.
That’s especially true in the Sahara,
where blowing sand deposits layers of
dust. In a partnership with the Masdar
Institute of Science and Technology
in Abu Dhabi, Siemens is designing
new surfaces that repel dust and resist
Founding members of Desertec,
which was formed in 2009, include
Sweden’s ABB, Spain’s Abengoa
Solar, Algeria’s Cevital and the German companies Deutsche Bank,
E.ON, HSH Nordbank, Muenchener
Rueca, M+W Group, R WE, SCHO TT
Solar and Siemens.
It looks as if this far-reaching plan
could actually be coming to fruition. ST
Copyright © 2012 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
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