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Desertec – tapping the solar power potential of the Sahara

The Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to tap into the enormous solar power potential of the Sahara through a pilot project which will see the implantation, in Morocco, of solar power systems, photovoltaic systems and wind parks on 17 000 sq km of the Sahara Desert.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative was officially launched in July 2009, by a consortium of 12 European companies, in collaboration with the government of Morocco. It is inspired by the Desertec concept - harnessing solar and wind energy in the deserts of North Africa – which was initiated under the auspices of the Club of Rome and the German Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC). Based in Munich, Germany, it is expected that the company network will be gradually expanded to include further companies from north and south of the Mediterranean.

As a private sector enterprise, Desertec is in a position to work with leading or complementary international political and institutional initiatives such as the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) or the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund (CTF), which are devoted to developing the markets for large-scale sustainable energy production and transmission.

Global cooperation for cleaner energy

The Desertec Industrial Initiative is supported by the Desertec Foundation which aims to create a global alliance to ensure security of energy supplies, to promote economic development and to stabilise the world’s climate. The Foundation will work with national governments and political bodies like the EU to create the right framework of laws and regulations in order to encourage Desertec developments. The Foundation is based in Berlin, Germany and was created by TREC with support from His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal and the German Association for the Club of Rome.

The potential impact of this initiative is considerable. More energy falls on the world's deserts in six hours than the world consumes in a year. The Saharan desert is virtually uninhabited, and is close to Europe. It is hoped that the Sahara could one day realistically deliver 15% of Europe's electricity, by transmitting electricity via a super grid of high-voltage direct current cables (MedRing). The Desertec Industrial Initiative pilot project in Morocco is therefore just one step in this direction.

In fact, Africa's deserts receive enough power not only for Africa and Europe, but for the whole world. If Africa was in a position to harvest even a fraction of the solar energy from its deserts, it would meet not only its immediate energy needs, but also have enough energy to process its vast mineral resources locally.