Just two years ago, Desertec was merely a pin prick of an idea conceived to tap into the desert’s vast energy solar and wind resources. Today it is a full fledged vision that has drawn scores of government representatives, investors, and other stakeholders from around the world to the second annual Dii conference in Cairo.
The conference venue – the Semiramis Hotel – overlooks the Nile River that is the lifeblood of so many countries. Outside the skies are heavy with pollution and the roads are as stuffed with cars as ever – a sure sign of how much this city relies on fossil fuels for its day to day function. But inside, there’s a semblance of hope that together Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East can pull off a cleaner future.
Already we’ve heard compelling presentations from Dr. Wolfgang von Geldern, Germany’s Secretary of State, who reinforced that country’s commitment to phase out nuclear power generation and invest in the Desertec initiative. “We have supported Desertec from the start,” he said, “and we will continue to do so.”
Egypt’s Minister of Electricity and Energy, H.E. Dr. Hassan Younes, pictured above, said that the Egyptian government is formulating new laws that will promote transparency and incentives to invest in renewable sources of energy.
And Caio Koch-Weser, Vice Chairman of the Deutsche Bank Group, pointed out that in the next few decades, 3 billion people will be entering the middle class, adding to energy demands. He was unambiguous about the necessity to “use and produce energy more efficiently… and reduce our carbon footprint.”
The challenges ahead are sobering. Indeed, Dr. Mahmoud Eisa, the new Minister of Trade and Industry, said that “energy has always been at the forefront of our industrial struggle.” But the Dii initiative has amassed a strong group of focused individuals who recognize the enormous potential latent in North African desert countries.
More than 55 companies and institutions, including the non-profit DESERTEC Foundation, and the Frauenhofer and Max-Planck research institutes, are putting their heads together to find solutions, build capacity, empower local communities, share knowledge, and surmount challenges such as financing and long-distance transmission.
The 2nd Dii has only just started, but Paul van Son, CEO of Dii, expressed in his welcome speech hope that it will be “an inspirational conference.” So far, that’s exactly what it is.