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Green Economy

Published on June 22nd, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

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Half a Trillion Dollars to Build Huge Desertec Plan?

June 22nd, 2009 by  


Desertec has for years been just the pipe dream of an international network of scientists and engineers; an example of some seriously out-of-the-box thinking on climate change prevention. It is the ambitous plan to power Europe, the Middle East and Africa off renewable power strung along a giant new supergrid of High-Voltage Direct Current transmission lines connecting the two continents.

A key element of the concept has been to build a humungous 6,500 square mile concentrated solar power (CSP) hub in the Sahara and send the massive amounts of power generated to Europe.  To cut long distance transmission losses to well under 15% across the incredible distances involved, Desertec proposed to use existing technology to build a supergid of High-Voltage Direct Current transmission lines.

“With HVDC, transmission losses are about 3% per 1000 km and there are small AC/DC conversion losses as well.” according to Desertec. ” Taking both of these into account, electricity may, for example, be transmitted from North Africa to the UK with less than 10% loss of power. It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for 3000 km or more.”

[social_buttons] This week Desertec is finally grabbing global headlines with an unprecedented colossal cash infusion for its project from a heavy hitter consortium of major European corporations. This would change the world solar industry. To say nothing of its impact on climate change!

Bringing Desertec to life would utterly change the face of solar energy generation for the whole planet.

It is truly a giant undertaking. Here, finally – is the serious action that we need to take to avert catastrophe.

Yet none of the technology needed is new.

(According to Desertec  plans this grid would include hydro, biomass and wind installations also, strung along the grid down the coasts as shown here)

In its current iteration, it will primarily comprise solar concentrated power from the Sahara desert. As Trek puts it: 90% of the world’s population lives within range of a desert and could be supplied with solar electricity from there.

CSP systems have been technically successful for years, and are very simple; comprising giant arrays of solar mirrors that concentrate direct desert sunlight to drive a conventional steam turbine and generate electricity.  These are powerfully effective systems for future utility-scale clean energy generation.

Desertec has been evaluating other deserts too on how much space is needed: ” 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.”

And making the switch to DC for long distance transmission has only been limited by the cost of making such a complete overhaul of existing transmission. But as Anthony Patt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis points out – “the cost of moving electricity long distances has really come down.”

So all Desertec has lacked was funding.

Now the reinsurance giant Munich Re and some of the heaviest hitters in Europe are forming a consortium to raise $555 billion for the much discussed project; the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed this week.  Among the other 20 firms are the Deutsche Bank and German engineering leader Siemens.

Munich-Re is the reinsurance firm that pays back insurance companies when they are wiped out by the ever increasing numbers of natural disasters fueled by climate change. So 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.

Munich Re had requested the details last year to review. Now the company’s Torsten Jeworek pronounces the project technologically practicable.

How encouraging it is when a brilliant concept like Desertec gets a chance to be implemented!

Image from Munich Re

Via Stacy Feldman at SolveClimate


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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



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