EVERY two weeks, the sun pours more energy onto the surface of our planet than we use from all sources in an entire year. It is an inexhaustible powerhouse that has remained largely untapped for human energy needs. That may soon change in a big way. If a consortium of German companies has its way, construction of the biggest solar project ever devised could soon begin in the Sahara desert. When completed, it would harvest energy from the sun shining over Africa and transform it into clean, green electricity for delivery to European homes and businesses.
Prospects for the project, called Desertec, have blossomed over the past year, and this month 20 major German corporations are expected to announce the formation of a consortium that will provide the €400 billion needed to build a raft of solar thermal power plants in north Africa. They include energy utilities giants E.ON and RWE, the engineering firm Siemens, the finance house Deutsche Bank and the insurance company Munich Re.
The current plan, outlined by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in a report to the federal government, envisages that the project will meet 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050, with a peak output of 100 gigawatts – roughly equivalent to 100 coal-fired power stations. Preliminary designs in the German report show electricity reaching Europe via 20 high-voltage direct-current power lines, which will keep transmission losses below 10 per cent (New Scientist, 14 March, p 42). Trans-Mediterranean links will cross from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; from Algeria to France via the Balearic islands; from Tunisia to Italy; from Libya to Greece; and from Egypt to Turkey via Cyprus.
It is claimed that the project could meet 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050
Do it. Do it.