16 June 2010
One of the most renowned statements over the last 12 months in the European solar scene bears so much more than just the simple facts: “Within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year.”
“Desertec is an initiative that aims to exploit the largest available source of renewable energy on earth.”
The man who said that shares a vision that may be turned into reality in the future. German physicist Dr. Gerhard Knies is the main initiator of the Desertec Foundation, an initiative that aims to exploit the largest available source of renewable energy on earth: Solar energy generated in the desert areas of our planet. The Desertec-concept includes an integrated solution to provide Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – together the so-called EUMENA region – with a sustainable supply of renewable energy by the year 2050.
A surface of 300x300 km2 of desert land, equipped with solar collectors would generate 18.000 TWh per year and thus enough energy to provide the world demands of electric energy of the year 2005.
To realize Desertec for the EUMENA-region, a total surface of 120x120 km2 would be needed. The share of both surfaces are marked by red squares (see square labelled “WORLD 2005” and "TRANS-CSP Mix EUMENA 2050") in the figure below. The numbers result from a scenario done by the German Aerospace-Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt), DLR.
(Source: DESERTEC Foundation, www.desertec.org)
The core of the concept is the idea to built a network of concentrating solar-thermal power plants (CSP) in the desert sun belt areas of Northern Africa and the middle East, combined with wind turbine generators, and connect these rich energy sources with the European power network. Solar-thermal power plants bear the great advantage over photovoltaic installations that the generated energy can be stored and used whenever needed, e.g. also during the night. By this, environmentally friendly electricity could meet about 15% of European power needs by the year 2050. The costs to realize the project amount to some 400 billion Euro within the given time frame of 40 years, according to DLR-calculations. However, this number does not include inflation.
But not only Europe would benefit from the realization of Desertec, quite the contrary: The participation of the MENA-countries in which the concentrating solar plants shall operate in the future is a key concern of the Desertec-idea. The majority of the energy generated would be used to satisfy the growing demand in the MENA-countries, directly for consumption, but also to produce another basic need of mankind these countries are short of: water. In the littoral states of the Mediterranean, the energy could be used to desalinate sea water and thus significantly improve the water supply.
The technologies needed for the mega-project are already in use. A solar-thermal power plant operates in California since 1985, and in Europe, the Andasol I plant in Andalusia is already on the Spanish grid, Andasol II is in the test run. By using high-voltage direct-current transmission lines (HVDC transmission lines), electric losses during the power transport are estimated to be limited to 4-5% per 1,000-km of line, a level which makes energy production in Africa still economic attractive to European consumers.
Out of the ideas of the Desertec Foundation, the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) was founded in October 2009 under German law as a GmbH (limited liability company). The industry initiative and its 13 founding members aim to create the technical, economic, political, social and ecological conditions to realize the Desertec concept in the EUMENA-region. Since then, the number of shareholders has risen to 17, and another 16 companies have joined the Desertec Industrial Initiative as Associated Partners. The DII recently has agreed a road map to create an implementation scenario for the period to the year 2050 by the end of 2012.
In the meantime, Solar Novus Today will closely follow the developments on Desertec and successively highlight all relevant economic, technical and political aspects related to this visionary venture.
For additional information on DESERTEC, see the following related Solar Novus Today exclusive feature articles:
- Desertec Update: Interview with Founding Member
- Major Players in Dii Consortium: Bringing Desertec to life
- Desertec Decoded: Interview with DESERTEC Foundation and Dii
- At the Heart of Desertec: Interview with Bernhard Zymla
Written by Andreas Breyer, Contributing Editor--Germany
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