“Deserts get more energy in six hours than the world’s population consumes in a year” – TREC
I remember when Desertec was dismissed as a wild idea that would never happen, just the pipe dream of the international network of scientists and engineers of TREC (Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation), who claimed back in 2006 that “mirrors could light up the world” and 15% of Europe’s entire energy need could be supplied by solar power from the deserts of North Africa.
Back then TREC’s ideas, which built on work by NASA and the US Department of Energy, was considered to be wildly out-of-the-box thinking on climate change prevention.
But the ambitous plan to power Europe and the MENA region off of a gigantic chain of renewable power strung along a huge new supergrid of High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines connecting the two continents got some serious attention from surprising German investors and is now… drum roll please… about to begin.
Desertec’s first link in the chain will be a 500 MW solar power project that will begin construction in Morocco, at an estimated cost of $US 2.8 billion. “Construction is to start in 2012,” Ernst Rauch of Munich Re, initiator of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), told Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview published on Saturday.
Munich Re is the world’s largest reinsurer – and, after checking into it in 2008, was a surprise backer of Desertec. Munich Re insures insurance companies against catastrophic loss – claims outnumbering premiums. So why is the world’s reinsurance giant backing a huge solar project? Surely insurance companies are risk-averse? But there’s risks and risks. And climate change is accurately perceived by the insurance industry to be the mother of all risks. Munich Re sees Desertec as a big solution.
Munich Re’s bottom line is already impacted by climate change losses. As a result it has been far more forward-thinking than other major corporations who have yet to see bottom line impact from climate change. Munich Re has been ahead of other firms in publicizing the dangers of climate change risks to coastlines and property values.
“Depending on the technology, electricity production can start in 2014, or no later than 2016,” Rauch said, adding that the location in Morocco, the solar technology, and the financing will all be decided by early 2012.
Because of the forward thinking of Munich Re and the other 20 – mostly German – shareholders – ABB, Munich Re, Abengoa, Deutsche Bank, RWE, Enel, Saint-Gobain, E.ON, HSH Nordbank, Siemens and Red Electrica -massive amounts of clean solar energy in the North Africa deserts could supply up to 15 percent of Europe’s power demand by 2050.
And, next, the world?
TREC believed that the idea could be replicated worldwide, as 90% of the world’s population lives within range of a desert and could be supplied with solar electricity from there. And alternatively, “The entire world’s electricity demand could be satisfied by a hypothetical concentrating solar power mirror field in outback Australia 432 kilometres on a side,” the originating scientists claimed.
Perhaps it’s time to listen!
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