Desertec’s ambitions are still impressive, despite the technological compromises
When the Desertec energy initiative was launched in 2009, it was greeted with a great deal of attention by others in the industry, mainly because of the scale of its ambitions.
The 13, mainly German, companies involved said they wanted to provide 15 per cent of Europe’s energy by 2050 through renewable energy projects in the Middle East and North Africa.
But already some of the ambitions appear to be coming under pressure.
At the time of launch, the vast majority of generating capacity was expected to take the form of concentrated solar power (CSP) – a form of thermal solar power. A smaller proportion would come from wind and photovoltaic solar facilities.
However, there are now indications that the partners behind the initiative may be changing their strategy.
CSP plants have successfully developed in the US and Spain, but are not used anywhere in the Middle East or North Africa.
With the right conditions, CSP plants can be built on a larger scale and produce cheaper energy than photovoltaic facilities. But there are significant technical hurdles. In particular, unlike photovoltaic technology, CSP requires ready access to fresh water, which renders huge areas of the region unsuitable.
As a result, while thermal solar is likely to remain an important part of the programme, its dominance may have to be curtailed in favour of additional photovoltaic and wind capacity.
But there are also significant financial and regulatory hurdles in building a network of projects in myriad jurisdictions.
The news this week that Desertec is in talks with Rabat over locating its first plant in Morocco, and is also looking to widen the partnership to include companies from the Middle East and North Africa, offers hope that such challenges can be overcome. The ambitions are still impressive, despite the technological compromises.