Siemens backs €400bn plan to harvest energy from Africa's deserts

9th July 2009 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Global electrical engineering group Siemens would next week throw its weight behind an ambitious project to harvest solar and wind energy from the deserts of North Africa to supply the growing electricity needs of both the region and Europe, managing board member Dr Siegfried Russwurm confirmed on Thursday.

The project, dubbed 'Desertec', could emerge as the biggest development project in Africa's history and involve a total investment of €400-billion. Its proponents believe that it could supply from 15% to 20% of Europe's electricity requirements by 2050.

Siemens would be one of several industrial companies to formally sign up to the initiative, as well as the so-called Desertec Industrial Initiative, when it was launched on July 13, in Munich, Germany.

Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg, Russwurm said that he was convinced that the solar-, wind- and transmission-technology elements necessary to develop the megarenewable-energy project were available, both within Siemens and from other industrial participants.

A range of countries and organisation had already formed a consortium to back the concept, which would involve the production of electricity in solar thermal, or concentrating solar, power plants in the desert regions of North Africa, as well as at wind farms in Africa and off the coasts of Europe.

The power arising could be carried over long distances by high-voltage direct-current transmission systems to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Proponents argued that the latent solar potential in the world's desert regions would be sufficient to generate power for more than 4 800 h/y. They add that these regions receive more energy in six hours than can be consumed in one year.

However, Russwurm cautioned that it would be premature to put figures to the potential order flow hat could arise in favour of Siemens, noting that major feasibility investigations were still required.

Nevertheless, he described the project as "courageous" and likened it in significance and scale to the laying of the first transcontinental telecommunications lines.