Joel Stonington at SPIEGEL writes about the failure of the Desertec project to already deliver several hundred TWh a year to Europe, with the headline “Desertec’s Promise of Solar Power for Europe Fades”.
He notes some setbacks, like Siemens and Bosch deciding to get out of the Desertec business, no German minister showing up at the latest Desertec conference, and Spain delaying signing an agreement on the Ourzazate project.
On the other hand, there are still plenty of companies involved in Desertec. And the idea was never to get started right away. This project is supposed to run over several decades. Northern Africa will still very likely beat all the other deserts and be the first reference case. It is certainly ahead of Mongolia or Australia as candidates right now.
And you wouldn’t know from reading SPIEGEL that the largest utility in the world, a company named SGCC with over 1.5 million employees and over $250 billion in revenue has expressed an interest in joining Desertec. That’s 2.5 times the revenue and about four times the number of employees compared to Siemens.
SPIEGEL also has published an interview with Friedrich Führ, who is a co-founder of Desertec who left the board in 2010.
There is one very interesting passage there:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What would you like to see politicians doing to support Desertec?
Führ: What we need is a feed-in tariff system that is also open for Africa.
I recall that I have discussed international aspects of feed-in tariff systems recently on this blog, and I am looking ahead to following that topic some more.
But here is a simple proposal that could be done easily right now.
Introduce a 50 cents per kWh feed-in tariff in Germany for CSP from Africa and Mongolia!
The reason this could be done easily is that right now there are no power lines connecting Germany to Northern Africa, or to Mongolia. That of course means that there will be zero installations actually taking advantage of the offer, and zero costs.
So this would be a purely symbolic measure. But it would still be important.
For one, it would be a clear indication of the political support for these projects.
And, eventually, these power lines will be built. Getting rid of all carbon in the energy system is necessary to avoid $1240 trillion in damages from global warming. Eventually people will start understanding that a couple of trillion dollars of energy infrastructure costs just don’t matter in the face of this threat.
Once that happens, a long standing policy of buying energy from the deserts at whatever price is necessary to make it happen will actually matter to finance some real projects.
But even a purely symbolic measure would be very welcome news.