The multi-billion renewable energy project, founded in Germany to much acclaim five years ago, was aimed at providing up to 15% of Europe’s power by 2050 from solar and wind parks in North Africa and the Middle East.  Its basic idea is to capitalise on the desert sun, which it estimated could “provide more power in six hours than mankind could use in a year”.  Unfortunately, DESERTEC’s ambitious but difficult path to production was not made easy by the local political establishments; as claimed by its initiators and its critics alike.

DESERTEC plan

DESERTEC’s ambitious project to harness and export solar power generated in Middle East and African deserts difficulties

Industry analysts highlighted that northern African states carried significant political risks and warned that at an expected cost of 400 billion euros ($506 billion) the project was too expensive to be practical and that also, Europe has had its own solar power boom in the recent past, hence raising questions about the need for imports.

As a result, a number of major shareholders such as Siemens, Bosch, E.ON and Bilfinger had lately decided to abandon the project.  Former shareholders include also Deutsche Bank, Insurer & Reinsurer Munich Re and Swiss conglomerate ABB.

“Costs were very high and some companies said we’re not that interested in the Middle East and North Africa,” Desertec Chief Executive Paul van Son told journalists, trying to explain why so many shareholders had left.

However, following a meeting in Rome this past week, Desertec informed that, only 3 of its 19 existing shareholders had decided to stay on board.  These are Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power, Germany’s RWE and China’s State Grid.

They have decided to continue the project in an “adapted format”, adding that it would now function as a service company in the Middle East and North Africa.

Spread over a 6,500 square mile area more than half the size of Belgium, Desertec’s projected delivery of more than 1 terawatt hours (TWh) would have been almost enough energy to power the whole of Germany for two years.