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Solar Power From Africa: The Best Investment the EU Can Make

By Stacy Feldman

Apr 21, 2008

"Big Solar" may take on a whole new meaning if Desertec, the most ambitious solar thermal plan ever conceived, gets funded.

Its architects claim they can build a supergrid of concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) that can meet most of Europe's current electricity needs by using just 0.3 percent of the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – and at a cost less than oil.

The long-term prospects look even sunnier.

For an investment of $400 billion over 30 years, Desertec could eventually power Europe plus two-thirds of the MENA countries by 2050, while dramatically cutting C02 emissions and phasing out nuclear power at the same time.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the whole world’s energy needs. And for only $13 billion per year.

What a bargain, if you consider that building a single nuclear power plant in Europe carries a price tag of around $2.5 to $3.5 billion these days.

Desertec was developed by the , the brain child of the Club of Rome, with support from the German Aerospace Bureau, among other influentials.

And it was created with this idea in mind: the solar energy available for harvest in the world’s deserts is 700 times the amount of energy needed to sustain the Earth’s population.

If the EU is charmed into supporting it, the desert lands of the MENA countries will bloom with hundreds, and eventually thousands, of arrays of solar mirrors that will generate an enormous 100 GW of exportable solar – with the potential for substantially more.

Too good to be true? Not anymore.

Skyrocketing fuel prices and the mounting reality of a peak oil future have made Desertec economically attractive for the first time since it was conceived back in 2003.

And it doesn’t hurt that the project carries a built-in bonus: drinking water. The plan aims to use the waste heat from the solar power plants for thermal desalination to create clean water for host countries.

The biggest snag is how to transmit the power to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea without losing mass amounts of energy during underwater transit. But Desertrec has already come up with the fix: clean electrical power via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines that will cause reasonable losses of 10 to 15 percent from Africa to Europe.

Still, the EU hasn't bought into it -- not yet. And Desertec needs Europe to invest big and early.

The European Parliament has asked Desertec for more specifics, especially how it will protect investors from financial losses when political instability strikes the MENA region.

Valid question.

In the meantime, the EU would be wise to back a Desertec demonstration project that would create a favorable economic framework for public and private investment in the long term.

If not, Europe may miss a lucrative opportunity to shape the future of desert solar, and its own energy economy.

Prince Hassan bin Talal from Jordan, former President of The Club of Rome and one of Desertec's most prominent supporters, offers this reminder to Europe:

"Such a win-win cooperation between the European Union and its southern and eastern Mediterranean neighbours is reminiscent of the Union for Coal and Steel in Europe founded some 60 years ago, which led Europe into a prosperous and peaceful future."

And if not the EU, then somebody else.

In the next 12 years alone companies will spend between $80 billion and $200 billion on CSP installations, according to a by Prometheus Institute and Greentech Media.

That includes more than $30 billion worth of new plants that companies have announced just in the last six months.


(Source: )



Solar Panels in Africa

I think its a good idea i guess because all the Europian countries have to split the 400 Billion dollars to pay for the panel and its not as much money to spent with all those countries splitting it.
Its probably good for africa too cause it needs all the help the country can get, but we can do something with all those acres africa is losing fOr the solar panel.
Also, it might warm the earth more to i guess , for all them homeless and poor people without heat, they will get warm from the panel too.

Solar panels for Africa.

I think this would be a good presentation to argue about. My opioin is that we should get solar panels in Africa. Some details to support my reasoning is that Africa is close to the eqauter and that is the hottest location and we will get the most solar heat from that location. Also that the peolpe Africa could have less worry about the respobility of having to pay for their electricity. For the sake of their contient we should give them a big favor. Another positive suggestion is that these solar panels could help are dying enviorment. These solar panels can bring salt-water to fresh water as some of the blogers before me have stated. I belive this concept could work as a very positive thing for the contient of Africa. People in Europe can afford to have electricity. On the other hand Africa doesn't have quite the big bucks that Europe does so it can help it in finacial suituations. One more fact that I would like to include is that if we build these solar panels in Europe it will cost up to 2.5 to 3.5 million dollars. Altough one bad thing that a have noticed in this article is that the co2 for the solar panel break down the ozone layer which is very distigushing to our enviorment.

The idea of using solar

The idea of using solar power energy is a great idea. Its cleaner and it can make the enviorment much healther. The estimated price is over all an ok price. within a few years there will be using .3% of the desert for our use, It being cheaper then oil which would save us a whole bunch of money. More poeple will be able to afford to have clean energy. Using the extra power to clean our water will make it better for people. Having to transport the energy will provid resources for those who really need it.

solar power

I think that this is good for some people because this makes the people that use this, makes there eletric bill go down and it will not be so high. Also with the gas prises like they talk about they are getting high and when the teens these days start to drive it will be like $4 and something. If the companies will spend between $80 billion and $200 billion on CSP installations then this new solar power thing must be a good sorce or energy. In the meantime, the European Union of countries would be wise to back a Desertec demonstration project that would create a favorable economic framework for public and private investment in the long term. If not, Europe may miss a lucrative opportunity to shape the future of desert solar, and its own energy economy. 400 billion is not really that much money but Europe will still have to use the money to run the county, so if you really think about it its kinda hard to the countrys that are not that big, because of the money sorce.

Solar Power From Africa

This seems like a good idea because years from now solar power may be our only source of light since the high prices. We can not depend on Europe. we cant depend on europe because the country would not be able to hold a $400 billon dollar plan against africa and the middle east.But it could still generate a very valuable amount of natural energy for Africa.

Great investment

Great investment

This could be good because

This could be good because with this project we will making use of the wasted heat from the solar power plants to create clean water for North Afican countries.the project could dramatically cut the usage of co2 emissions and phase out the use of nuclear power.

I think there should be any

I think there should be any panel enery sources in Africa becuase its a good energy source.This project will cost over 400 billion dollars over 30 years.the biggest thing is losing mass amounts of enery during the underwater transit across the mediterranean sea.the project could cut the usage of CO2 emission and phase out the use of nuclear countries are looking to invest in similar projects due to the potential to reduce fuel cost and plus the heat source will bring fresh water.

I think that this is a good

I think that this is a good idea because they are dividing it evenly between the MENA and EU. They are also getting rid of energy with these solar panels instead of wasting it. It will also provide cleaner water for North Africas countries. Also if they are going to be spending 400 billion dollers for over 30 years, for the economy that is really not that much for like 4 or 5 countries in Europe. They willstill have to spend money for the country anyway. The project will also cut the usage of CO2 emissions and phase out the the use of nuclear power.

Solar Energy!

I think $400 billion a year is alot of money and all being powered into solar power money "What a bargain, if you consider that building a single nuclear power plant in Europe carries a price tag of around $2.5 to $3.5 billion these days." I dont really think than thats much of a bargain if you ask me. "The biggest snag is how to transmit the power to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea without losing mass amounts of energy during underwater transit". I dont know how they dont lose mass energy from this!

no need for panels

i personally think that it could be good in some ways ;like for example we have more energy source and it will supply unlimitsd resurce. But i also disagree to spend so much money on something the land could do itself. I also think this project could cause more enviromental problems because the earth is customed to work one way and any thing out of order could affect us.

Solar Power in Africa

This seems like a great idea because many years from now solar power may be our only source of light because of too high enery prices and this idea is pretty cheap. But I wouldn't depend on Europe, because the country would be able to hold this "400 billion"dollar plan against Africa and the Middle East and they would be able to control them too. I'm for going GREEN and everything but not this way.

if you want to reply go to

if you want to reply go to my email this is true , but what happens if this panel crashes or doesnt support enough energy. I also wouldnt rely on Europe because we could start to have problems and they wont care what happens then.

My feelings on solar panels

I think it's a good idea because solar panels are cheaper then nuclear power or cheaper then building coal plants and having to pay money to mine it. It will also cut down on polution because solar panels dont admit co2 and other greenhouse gasses. And for one thing solar panels can keep generating electricity for a while because the sun will keep generating heat for some 3 billion more years!

cis solar panel is quite suitable for the Africa

Now the new next generation solar panel may suit for the Africa,those panel are cheap than crystalline solar panel and also good in quantity.
Here is brief introduct of CIS solar module:
CIS is a new version thin-film solar cell with 6 advantages in application
·A cost-effective solution based on the thin-film technology
·Never affected by silicon shortage
·It is environment friendly product without the elements of Pb and Cd
·No degradation and 12% Hi-efficiency. Its performance is better than Amorphous Si.
·It ensures maximum power output under the shadow and adverse weather conditions.
·Wide-broad of spectrum comparing with crystalline cell

If you interest in the new thin film to communicate more,welcome you contact us at:

Looking forward to hearing from you!!!

Is That Fair?

It sounds great for Europe, but Africa and the Middle East need electricity. Africa especially needs more solar panels for them, not Europe. There are some hospitals there with just one solar panel, that only runs a fridge. How useful is that? I think a better idea would be to donate half of the panels for thier own use, since you will be taking their sunlight. Some of those countries need it more than Europe.

Dear Sir/Madam:

Dear Sir/Madam:

I work as a United Nations Volunteer – UNV- , through the organization "Working to Empower", in the project "HIV/AIDS RESOURCE CREATION" destined to help refugees camps in Africa .
We want to try a new idea out in Ethiopia. In that country, we have so much sun, almost all year. And limited power. We need a simple solar power project. We want it so students can study at night. And to care hospices.
Could you help me with some information about this project, what I need to buy, its costs, and all you think important to let me know.
We need to start this work as soon as possible.
I hope to hear from you soon.

Adriana Palacios
United Nations Volunteer (UNV)

HIV/AIDS Project
Working to Empower

Better Health fo All

Getting rid of the cancerous benzine molecule, the coercive effect of limited oil supplies and the leverage it yields to the oil barons may relieve some of the tensions that could bring about war and make the world population healthier.
Will the shade that the collectors offer allow some plant life to grow in the deserts and will this be of benefit or detriment to mankind? Could this sort of change in the deserts alter the gulf stream or other important environmental phenomena?

Plant life?

Hmm. are there plants growing under the shade of bridges? Don't think so...

win win situation?

Reading the article seems like a good idea. I understand the comments made before I visited, but I see a possibly win-win situation. Not only water could be cleaned using the elctricity, but also salt-water could be transformed into fresh (drinking) water using the solar power. This way the countries hosting the solar panels would get access to clean water which leads to better health - and I suppose better life for all.
Many violence, wars and suppression happen because there is money in volved - but money for only a few people. Giving water and engery as a source of money to the countries providing the resources - their grounds - to a northern hemisphere enegry consumer panel (Europe) sounds fair to me.
There are still rich against poor country oppositions which do not make it easy, but we should definetly try: "Free" energy = more water = less suffering and war for resources. Might sound strange to some reader but I can imagine it.
400 billion is quite a lot, but not compared to what happens when the resource oil is getting more and more expensive and there are still so many more needs for oil than just fueling our cars.
Another idea would also be many small electricity sources - solar panels on many, many roofs. Since solar technology keeps getting better and better we (european countries) should try to foster this development and get people to really care about energy sources: Why shouldn't people be made to invest into the/their/their kids generations and put solar panels on - not only new - but also old houses?
This would be similar to a grass roots movement compared to the Switzerland-size solar parks somewhere in the desert. This also could be a good parallel initiative to them, making sure, that Europe must not rely on other peoples energy. And we should not forget - the energy Europe needs is already being imported: Germany imports gas from Russia and the eastern countries, oil from middle eastern countries. Germany has nearly no oil at all - and afaik do the other countries in Europe. At this point we are much more dependent on foreign energy - also from political unstable countries - than one might think.

World Wide Web of Electricity

There is a new world wide web emerging right before our eyes.

It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy.

For more information, see

interesting article, bit too

interesting article, bit too much opinion and bias mixed in but thats ok seeing the theme of the site.

anyway, this really does seem to be the way to go imo, i would imagine countries would pay proportionally, so the richest would pay about 750-1000m p.a. and the poorer 250-500 p.a. which seems to be a reasonable price to pay. They really need to make sure it runs smoothly, i can see this costing alot more when you add inevitable mishaps and problems.

Energy Security

It's a bad idea to invest in these technologies outside the EU. Have we learned nothing from relying on unstable foreign energy supplies? Go green yes, but within the EU and under EU control.

Really 0.3 percent of the worlds deserts?

Considering, from Wikipedia, that the total extension of the MENA deserts are about 12 million square km;

that the solar plan involves covering 'only' 0.3% of said 12 million km squared;

Does this really mean that this is a megalomaniac plan to cover an area the size of Switzerland in politically unstable countries with basically "Caution: Fragile" panels in the desert?

Could the outlook for solar be any sunnier?

Commenter says this plan is

Commenter says this plan is "megalomaniac". Perhaps it's actually sane compared to the current "plan" of burning 80 million barrels of oil per day, millions of tons of coal, and huge amounts of natural gas all while irrevocably changing the basic climate of earth?

Solar the size of Switzerland sounds fine to me. Especially after looking at the relative size of just the Sahara desert.

Google for SEGS. A series of

Google for SEGS. A series of 30MW CSP plants were built in the California desert in the 1970s built and are producing electricity to this day. In fact, there are critics who say that the SEGS projects were sidelined by contractors who intentionally used over-priced materials so the contractors who invested could siphon off nice profits and it was still economically feasible despite the pork of importing curved glass panels from Pilkington in England and other absurdly priced components. Not to disparage SEGS, because it's a wonderful thing, but it wasn't pure charity when it came to financing. Despite the controversy about the price of the components, valuable lessons were learned from SEGS such as the importance of reducing right angles in the plumbing of the heat transfer media. People who were involved in SEGS are now working on much larger projects and many new players are involved.

Actually, the southwestern US is even better than Africa because it is already crisscrossed with transmission grids. And yes, there are already big projects signed for California, Nevada and probably other states as well.

Is there a North American possibility?

Is there any way that places in southwestern America, especially in the more deserted areas, for a similar project to be built? I know it wouldn't be able to generate as much as those in the larger deserts of North Africa or the Middle East, but it could still generate a very valuable amount of natural energy for the U.S. Or is there a similar plan already underway?

The Southwest holds

The Southwest holds tremendous promise. eSolar has giant plans for the deserts there that are well in the works -- and Google keeps betting big on the company's solar thermal technology.

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