Our sun, a nuclear fusion source which is already working reliably for more than 5 billion years, produces an extreme amount of energy. Within 6 hours, deserts on Earth receive more solar energy than we use in a whole year globally. Therefore it is strange that we are not already using this free energy source to it’s full potential. It looks like this is going to change now. A group of twenty big German corporations has plans to deliver solar power from Africa to German households in Europe within 10 years. The plan consists of investing 400 billion euros to build gigantic large Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants in North-Africa. With this investment, 15% of the total European electricity can be generated by solar power day and night. It is one of the biggest private green initiatives.
Twenty of the biggest German companies, of which Siemens, Deutsche Bank, RWE, will start up a new consortium with the name Desertec in July 2009. The plan is to harvest solar energy in the African desert using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). The group wants to present concrete plans within two to three years. The founding meeting will take place at 13 July 2009 in München (Germany) in the presence of ministerial representatives and the Club of Rome. The group plans for participation of other European countries and North-Africa on the medium term. The group already received positive reactions from these future partners. A Feed-in Tariff will provide the financial income on the short term, it is expected that Desertec will be competing in the energy market within 10-15 years.
With the start up of the Desertec consortium, the first step is made for starting large scale solar energy production using CSP-plants for Europe. To cover 15% of Europe’s electricity needs, a surface area of only 50 square miles is needed. The extended electricity grid needs to transport the generated power from North-Africa to Europe via HVDC (high Voltage DC, Direct Current) lines below the Mediterranean sea. With HVDC lines, the electrical transportation loss is a lot less compared the normal HVAC (high Voltage AC, Alternating Current) lines when transporting electricity over thousands of miles. Of the total investment of 400 billion euros, 10-20 billion is needed for the new electricity grid.
More Energy than We Need
The potential is even greater. Deserts on Earth annually receive more than 1000 times more solar energy than we actually use. The whole world has an annually energy usage of 18,000 TWh. The area needed to generate this amount of energy with CSP-plants is only 188×188 square miles. Below is a table which show how much area you need to provide large geographical locations with energy using CSP.
|Geographical location||Annually energy usage||Area needed for CSP plant|
|World||18.000 TWh||188×188 square miles|
|Europe||3.200 TWh||78×78 square miles|
|MENA (Middle East and North Africa)||600 TWh||34×34 square miles|
Research shows that we need to cover less than 0.3 percent of the Sahara desert with solar mirrors to generate enough power for the energy needs of the 25 countries of the European Union, North-Africa and the Middle-East.
The red squares are only to illustrate how much area is needed for CSP-plants to generate enough energy for respectively the world, Europe or MENA. Obviously these CSP-plants will not be built in a single location. The planned locations can be found in the map above.
The red square with the name “TRANS-CSP Mix EUMENA 2050″ shows how much area is needed to generate enough freshwater for the region, provide for 2/3 of the electricity needs of MENA in the year 2050 and 1/5 part of the European electricity needs (2.940 TWh / year). CSP-plants can provide an substantial contribution for the production of freshwater in a region with serious freshwater scarecity.
Solar Plants can provide enough Energy to Power the World