Bridgette Meinhold

World's Largest Solar Project Planned for Saharan Desert

by , 06/22/09
filed under: Solar Power

Saharan Solar project, Desertec, Europe, Africa, Concentrating Solar Power, Renewable Energy, green design, desertec

If just 0.3% of the Saharan Desert was used for a concentrating solar plant, it would produce enough power to provide all of Europe with clean renewable energy. That is why 20 blue chip German companies are gathering together next month to discuss plans and investments to create such a massive project. Both the meeting and project are being promoted by the Desertec Foundation, which is proposing to erect 100 GW of concentrating solar power plants throughout Northern Africa.

Saharan Solar project, Desertec, Europe, Africa, Concentrating Solar Power, Renewable Energy

The red squares in the above map represent the land area necessary to meet the energy demand of the world, the EU and MENA in 2005. The last square represents the land necessary for the proposed project to generate 100 GW of concentrating solar power. The project being proposed by Desertec would not all be situated in one location, but scattered throughout politically stable countries. Taken as a whole, the project qualifies as the world’s largest solar installation – 80 times larger than the PG&E and BrightSource project planned for the Mojave Desert. The power generated would be transported over high-voltage DC lines across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, where it would supply 15% of the energy demand. The project is still 10-15 years from going online, but that’s why major players are getting started now.

Companies like Siemens, Deutsche Bank, energy companies RWE and E.on, as well as the German insurer Munich Re are all interested in getting involved despite the financial crisis. All of the companies claim that this is how they are fighting back against climate change, and that in order to avoid an energy crisis in 2050 they have to start building now. To build the 100 GWs worth of solar power a total of €400bn investment is needed.

The Sahara Forest Project, Saharan Solar project, Desertec, Europe, Africa, Concentrating Solar Power, Renewable Energy

Even more frightening than the energy crisis is the water scarcity that is set to occur even sooner. Taking this into account, the project hopes to combine desalination plants and agriculture along with the solar plants to provide fresh drinking water and grow crops in arid desert region. Concentrated solar power will provide energy and waste heat to create freshwater from seawater. Some of that water would then be used to irrigate nearby crops, while the rest would supply fresh drinking water to local populations. This concept is very similar to the Sahara Forest Project, which we explored last year.

Herman Scheer, President of the European Association for Renewable Energy is disappointed that these companies are considering such large scale projects and not distributed generation at the demand centers, and says that the Desertec project is “highly problematic” due to sand storms, dealing with foreign countries, meeting deadlines and so on. Others contend that large scale projects such as this are the fastest way to meet our energy demands and are a far better option than continuing buring fossil fuels. We’ll certainly be keeping tabs on this exciting project to see how it progresses.

+ Desertec Foundation

Via Next 100

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23 Comments

  1. Arunjansi November 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Hi.. By using 1% of heat energy from Sahara desert we can supply electricity to the whole world. So create awareness abt the Solar & Wind energy to all.

  2. FutureDreams June 7, 2011 at 5:56 am

    Thanks for this enlighting article & comments. My thoughts;
    1. Desertec currently has no political clout in Europe to make this happen and it will be very challenging to peacefully manage African political interests.
    2. Well managed this concept would be win-win for the world, and it must start asap if Europe and Africa are to secure their energy supplies and our environment beyond 2050.
    3. Issues such as sand storms, mine clearance, building water pipes/desalination, transmission lines are relatively minor roadblocks compared with… landing men on the moon, building a bullet train from Beijing-London and Singapore (on track for 2025!), Creating underwater intercontinental fiber optic data networks, curing diseases, harnessing solar power etc….
    That said, intangible costs are underestimated – 800bn Euros is probably more realistic than 400!
    4. Floating Solar Panels is probably a non-starter logistically as it is not currently scalable. Nice for small scale use though.
    Using this articles numbers (0.3% of Sahara for ~300million energy hungry europeans) 1.2% of an empty Saharan desert would be less than 0.2% of the landmass in Europe and enough too power two continents of people, not bad I say.
    5. MIT/Cambridge are making progress in commercialising Photosynthesis based solar tech to boost efficiency rates, new tech can be applied to later phases for development so less land is used.

    P.S. I’m in China at the moment and I’m so pleased to have stumbled on this article while surfing (it wasn’t blocked!). China’s number of english speakers is burgeoning so I hope information like this will help apply pressure to increase the momentum of their renewable efforts, they have hydro projects but their biggest solar project (in Mongolia) will only supply 1 million homes by 2019. There’s probably 700m homes in china’s population of 1.4billion

  3. ali müfit December 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    elde edilen konsantre ışığı fiber optik kablolar ile taşınma düşünülüyor mu

  4. Israeli Company Develop... November 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    [...] of the main drawbacks of major solar projects is that they require huge areas of land in which solar fields can be constructed. Take the Desertec [...]

  5. lisarojer October 30, 2010 at 8:00 am

    project like this are really beneficial for country and community as it produce lots of job opportunities and helps in stopping illegal immigration………….

  6. South Africa Unveils Pl... October 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    [...] power holds for providing the world’s energy, and it comes as no surprise that there are massive solar projects such as the Desertec being developed. Not wanting to be left out in the cold, South Africa just [...]

  7. Nory Bshina July 29, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Projects like these will bring many benefits to many countries in the region , the most important is the development of the area around it ,stop illegal immigration find food and jobs for the poor in the area who struggling to stay alive ,and would take any chance to travel north ,for the northern countries the benefits is even greater , since they can forget about the pollution and nuclear risks or shortage of oil supply, I think it is the best project for all

  8. Solar Energy from the S... June 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    [...] energy from the Sahara within the next five years. The news comes after the Desertec Initiative was announced last year, which sets a long-term plan of about 40 [...]

  9. mydogscalledjack June 16, 2010 at 3:55 am

    I agree this looks great on paper but I thought the preferred solution was to decentralise/localise energy production partly as a means of democratising energy? The massive issues of transmission are then sidestepped. You talk of political stability – but in many countries that is transient, and by centralising the production source you present terrorists with an easy and irresistable target. The technology is proven but the size and unnecessary complexity of this project may actually delay its take up and provides an excuse not to take difficult decisions now.

  10. trysts April 14, 2010 at 1:04 am

    At the moment, there are 22 million unexploded devices buried around the peripheries of the Western desert as a result of Italian, German and British operations during WW2. 8,000 Bedouins have been killed since 1945. Furthermore, there are vast resources of natural gas which the Egyptian government can not tap because of this lethal ordnance. Clearance would provide 1.5 million jobs shifting people away from the crowded areas of the Nile. The world has deemed mine clearance too expensive as there are no maps; moreover, mines can shift 60 metres per year under the sand. Since Desertec aims to build their plants on the seaward edges of the Sahara, I wonder whether they will consider mine clearance?

  11. Umesh yadav March 4, 2010 at 5:56 am

    Hi sir i am final year student diploma in mechnical engineering .i am make the project for solar pump.we are creat the problem of selection of solar panel.we are select the 24 volt DC Moter and 12 volt two battery 32 mA each. how many watt solar panel suitable for this project plz help me.

  12. BeyondRenewableNRG4Capt... February 8, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Has anyone noticed that this wreaks of Eurpean colonialism? Does anyone remember the rush for resources that created the dependancy of African nations on the politically and economically powerful states of the North/West? What percentage of this vast energy resource will reach the homes of African people and contribute to their economy? And in reference to Labman’s comment on ‘Iraq-style’, I assume that regime change will be required to ensure the political stability discussed in the article; I suppose we should install a puppet government to ensure the benefits are confined to Imperial states??

  13. a random guy January 5, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    how are they getting money to put pipes to europe that wil probaly be more money than it would be to make the mirrors and stuff.

  14. vaibhav December 12, 2009 at 6:49 am

    tell me about this in detail with picture n how is will be work…………

  15. gregory oser November 15, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Where are they gonna get the water from?

  16. Bridgette Meinhold Bridgette Meinhold July 9, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Hi Labman,
    Thanks for noticing the typo. Just corrected it.
    As for your if’s, while I definitely think those are issues, I think the largest issue is cooperation. That’s a lot of countries with different political agendas to get to work together. Everyone will want something for free. Having worked with this technology a number of years ago, it’s not like the mirrors need to be cleaned every day, but still they do need a wipe down and that means at least a few jobs for trained locals in the area, which to me is a good thing.
    Thanks for reading.

  17. labman July 9, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Note that the article mentions Siemens (misspelled as ‘Seimans’) as a lead industrial partner. The once-mighty Siemens has in recent years sold off all divisions of industrial value, and these days Siemens is living off utilizing political connections to channel taxpayer funds their way in governmental projects. They would not be able to sell anything in a free market. All projects where Siemens is involved are highly suspect in my view.

    The concept itself is great and makes perfect sense if:
    - There is reasonable assurances that hosting countries would squeeze it financially. This aspect can be managed Iraq-style, but those costs should be included in the planning.
    - The cleaning of mirror surfaces is resolved – many studies forget this aspect. How often do these surfaces need cleaning? The costs of building needed water pipes from sea must be included.
    - The building of transmission lines is planned and financed. To minimize losses it needs high voltage DC lines, not the ones used currently. It is feasible to build, but the effort is major – comparable to building new trans-continental highways.

    Without above questions answered, it could be just an exercise of pleasing Siemens & partners, while disappointing consumers. I hope that will not turn out to be the case.

  18. Christos Papageorgiou June 26, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Photo Voltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power Plants (CSP) are very expensive for large scale application in deserts. I believe that the low cost alternative of Solar Updraft Tower named “Floating Solar Chimney Technology” is the appropriate technology for deserts (See http://www.floatingsolarchimney.gr ) The following table shortly gives an idea about cost figures:

  19. Alternative Green Techn... June 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Wow, that is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a while.

    I’ll definitely be writing about this on our Green Technology Blog

    If they can find a way to get this done, I think we are on a very good path to oil independence. Are they any plans to harness the power of the US desert space?

  20. renedegroot June 23, 2009 at 5:13 am

    An interesting documentary on this subject from
    the Netherlands public broadcasting network VPRO,
    Here Comes the Sun;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLHBFyfvK8A&feature=channel_page

  21. cjwirth June 22, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Solar and wind power yield electric power, which cannot be used for large tractors/combines, long distance trucks, ships, airplanes, and most trains currently in use. We need liquid fuels. We will have spare electric power as plazas, factories, and offices close. To learn more see my research about this, google: Peak Oil report.

  22. aaweeble3 June 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Wow, that is truly amazing!

  23. alexjameslowe June 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    This is exactly the kind of mega-scale project that the world needs to get its butt in gear. This is the 21st century equivalent of the Interstate Highway Act of the 50s. When people talk about governments updating infrastructure they always get the scale wrong. What we need are projects of impossible grandiosity like this one, and I’m sorry to say, it seems that America is too complacent and cynical to get behind anything of this scale. It looks like we’ve ceded our enthusiasm to Europe. I hope they treat it well.

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