Selwa Calderbank has published an interesting article at EurActiv on Desertec. It is titled “Desertec abandons Sahara solar power export dream”. Most of it seems to be rather critical of the Desertec vision. And there are some basic errors, like talking about “a project to generate 100GW by 2050”. Generation is measured in TWh, GW is a measure for capacity.
But the author did some original research, interviewing Dii (Desertec industrial initiative) CEO Paul van Son. And, according to the article, van Son said that the focus of the project has moved from exporting electricity to Europe. Now they are more interested in building the capacity for use in the Northern African countries.
For the first stages of this project, this obviously makes sense. You can’t export electricity to Europe without having the power lines in place. Building them will at least take some time.
It also makes sense since it is a much easier sell in the countries involved. Whatever happens with the Desertec industrial initiative, countries in Northern Africa eventually will develop their vast solar and wind resources. That does in no way depend on exporting the energy.
Eventually, this will be just a question for the market to decide. Just like an internal market for electricity in the EU makes sense for all countries involved, extending that grid to the African continent can only lead to more stability and less cost for everybody.
And the Africans have so much better solar resources compared to Europe that it may well make economic sense to build a power line or two.
But I agree completely with this focus change. The idea of energy from the desert does in no way depend on having power lines and export markets in place before you build your desert power plants.
Update June 16: Desertec industrial initiative now says there is no change in focus, and the report above is based on a misunderstanding.