Renewable energy: Desertec to take over from nuclear power
8 June 2011
The end of nuclear power in Germany and Switzerland and reduced tolerance for this energy source in many countries in Europe has given a new lease of life to projects based on renewable energy, like the one backed by a German consortium in North Africa.
Several German companies – including financiers like Deutsche Bank and industrial groups like E.ON, RWE and Siemens, who came to together in the summer of 2009 to launch the Desertec consortium – are keenly watching the development of the Arab revolutions and wondering about the future of their plans to develop ambitious North African solar and wind power projects that could provide electricity the region and also for Europe.
The figures presented at the launch of the project were immense. For an overall investment of 400 billion euros over the next 40 years, the goal was to fulfill the electricity needs of North Africa and the Middle East and to supply 15% of Europe’s power by 2050.
However, the Munich based Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) consortium, which has been charged with the creation of the technical, legal and economic conditions for the achievement of the plan by 2012, is anxious to downplay the huge scope of the project. For its managers, this is not a single “400 billion" project, but a network formed by approximately 30 local schemes: the first of which will be a 500 megawatt solar power station to be located in Morocco.
Ever since the Tunisian revolution, the nagging question has been: will Desertec, which was devised while dictatorial regimes held power in Tunisia and Egypt, be derailed by the Arab Spring? Paul van Son, DII’s Dutch director, believes it won’t. The 4 March statement published by his team remains the reference on this topic. Certainly "ongoing political change may result in delays to the planning of the initial plants," but Desertec is not in jeopardy.
Desertec meets with unanimous approval in Germany
On the contrary. "DII's mission – long-term development of renewable energy for local populations and for export to Europe – doesn't depend on the [political] scenario for its meaning," says Van Son. "By 2050, the North African population will have grown dramatically. We will see an increase in energy demand, while employment and economic opportunities for young people will become urgent. (...) Desertec is also the development of new industries in North Africa and the Middle East, job creation and transfer of technology and knowledge. "
Encouraging sign for the consortium: In mid-April, four Tunisian ministers agreed to launch a feasibility study for large projects in solar and wind power. For its part, Desertec opened an office in Tunis, headed by a former head of Siemens.
A further sign of the confidence that Europeans demonstrate in the ongoing process is that November's next grand annual Desertec conference is to be held in Cairo. And, although not explicitly stated, two recent events can only reinforce Desertec: that the G8 decided, in Deauville, 26/27 May, to grant financial support to developing countries undergoing democratization, and the abandonment of nuclear power by Germany, which can only reinforce the need for renewable energy.
Somewhat snubbed by the French, with the exception of Saint-Gobain – one of the groups that joined the founders – Desertec meets with unanimous approval in Germany and shows how this country is taking a step forward in clean energy. Seeing the Greens and Greenpeace support a project in which energy groups E. ON and RWE figure prominently is uncommon. The fact that the European Commissioner for Energy is a German, Günther Oettinger, also plays in the favor of the project.