By Martin Morris
Plan aims to build solar power plants across MENA region to supply Europe's energy needs.
German firms on Monday launched a renewable energy project designed to provide European households with electricity from solar power plants to be built in the MENA region.
Utilities giants RWE and E.ON, electro-engineering group Siemens and Deutsche Bank are among the dozen companies involved in the 400 billion euro ($552 billion) Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII).
The DII would build solar-power generators from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and pump electricity to Europe via underwater cables.
It would also provide a "substantial portion of the power needs of the producer countries," the Desertec foundation said in a statement, and transform sea water into drinking and irrigation water for local populations.
"If things go according to plan we can begin building the first power station in 2015," said Torsten Jeworrek, board member of insurer Munich Re, another firm involved in the project.
The consortium agreed to form a consultancy by the end of October, which would have three years to conduct a feasibility study, look into methods of financing and evaluate political issues involved.
Jeworrek added it would take decades for the project to reach full capacity.
The plants to be built across the region will use parabolic mirrors to collect the sun's rays and turn them into heat, which is used to produce steam to drive turbines and electricity generators.
Using high voltage direct current transmission lines, the energy could then be transferred to Europe where it could eventually supply 15 percent of the continent's electricity needs.
The MENA region would also be able to meet a large portion of its own energy needs from the scheme, its initiators said, without disclosing where the plants will be built.
Some experts however have questioned where the money for such an ambitious scheme will come from.
Steam comes from water. If you use seawater, you get concentrated saltwater (brine) and a lot of salt crystals. What happens to these by-products? They cannot be dumped back into the pristine marine environment, and there's a limit to the demand for table-salt on earth. Another aspect is that you need clean water to wash the mirrors regularly, because using salt-water would lead to salt encrusting itself on the surfaces and limiting the reflective capacity. Are there sufficient supplies of water to carry out this essential task. Finally what hard guarantees do the MENA countries have that they will be served first before the electricity is exported? Generosity and altruism are not the foremost considerations of energy consortiums. http://www.blessedsun.wordpress.com