Desertec Project – a sound alternative to Russian gas pipelines?


Energy demand in Europe is not growing as fast as in other parts of the world but it still constitutes a significant portion of global energy demand.  Europe’s share of global primary energy demand is around 14%, although it is likely to decrease to 11-12% by 2030 according to IEA forecasts. While growth is slower than 50 years ago, energy for Europe continues to be a strategic issue.

On July 13 2009, the first international agreement on the Nabucco project was signed in Ankara to ensure gas supply for Europe from the Caspian Region to Austria through Turkey and Eastern Europe. Europeans are to almost 50% dependent on foreign resources for their primary energy demand.  Having experienced gas cuts in recent years, resulting in hard times for their industries and residents, Europe would like to become less dependent on Russia by securing its supply from different sources.

While trying to maintain a steady gas supply, Europe is also coming up with sustainable policies and clean technologies to help satisfy its energy demand. The EU Climate Change Programme and related policies were created against environmental concerns, but Danish wind power and German photovoltaic successes are born out of the support for developing local sources of energy and creating new jobs.

Now, renewable energy might be taking on a new level. On the same day as Nabucco was signed, twelve major companies came together in Munich to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Desertec Industrial Initiative. Desertec is an international clean development concept developed by the Club of Rome based in Munich. Briefly, the project involves Europe (EU), Middle East (ME) and Northern Africa (NA) as a whole to connect their resources and establish an interconnected system to provide energy supply mostly from renewable resources.

The project would constitute concentrated solar plants in the African and Arabian deserts, supplemented by wind, hydro and geothermal power. Generated power is essential for the producer countries for their desalination of sea water, and the project would be a new platform for European countries to fulfill their carbon free economy requirements. It could create a completely new and sustainable economy and provide new jobs for MENA countries, including those with oil and gas resources.

Although the project would use already proven technologies like CSP (concentrated solar plants) and HVDC (high voltage direct current transmission), some years (maybe even decades) will be needed for the preparation of the policies and integration of the MENA countries. The project will need a single electricity market in the EU-MENA region, for which the infrastructure will have to be upgraded extensively. Creating awareness and establishing feasibility studies in regards to political, financial, technical and environmental issues will take up some time in the next years.

If it succeeds, Desertec will become the largest clean power initiative in the world, satisfying 15% of Europe’s energy demand and covering substantial needs of the producer countries. Critics claim that this centralized energy generation project bears high risks for becoming a target of terrorist attacks; moreover, Europe would still be dependent on other sources of foreign energy supply.

The estimated cost of the Desertec project is around EUR 400 Billion. Over the next few years, the initiators of the project are aiming at building a pilot kick-off project with a capacity of 1 GW in order to prove its feasibility and attract supporters.

Considering the recent nuclear power discussion on the CleanTechies Blog, one easily gets curious about how the world is going to (be) shape(d).

[image credit: Desertec Foundation]

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  1. Why not ‘pipe’ waste CO2 from the coal/gas fired power stations of Europe and on the same site as Desertec build a ‘plankton converter’ to regenerate oil?