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Is the Humongous Solar Thermal Desertec Project a White Elephant Doomed to Fail?

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White ElephantDesertec is a Euro 400 Billion Solar Thermal Project to provide  15% of Europe’s Electricity Needs by 2050 from Power generated in the Deserts of North Africa.The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) was launched with much fanfare by 12 European Companies in July 2009 with plans of constructing 100 GW of CSP Plants in the Sahara Desert which would be transported by High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Undersea Lines to Europe.What gives the Concept the Heft and Influence is the Participants are Giants of European Industry like Siemens,ABB,Deutche Bank,Munich Re,Abengoa etc.Besides a number of new Green Companies like First Solar have also joined the consortium.However  Desertec Advantages which are explained very eloquently on Desertec Website totally fail to explain how the it will compete against the rapidly falling costs of Decentralized,Distributed Photovoltaic Solar Energy.There  are number of Points which I think  makes Desertec just a Dream rather than Reality.Is the Humongous Solar Thermal Desertec Project a White Elephant Doomed to Fail?

1) High Costs – Desertec will apparently cost Euro 3.5/watt with another Euro  50c/watt cost for High Voltage Transmission.However these costs are too high  as Solar PV already costs Euro 3.5/watt and even on a conservative basis will have its costs reduced by 5% in the next 10 years making it attain half the cost of Solar Thermal Technology by 2020

2) Political Problems – The Desertec Initiative requires unprecedented coordination between more than 40  countries in Europe and MENA.A Number of countries in MENA like Algeria,Morocco,Egypt etc are politically and socially volatile.There are already concerns being raised on the next phase of European Colonialism through this Energy Project.Some of the countries have disputed political boundaries.There are also no simple solutions to sharing of the costs and benefits.

3) Future Technology has a high probability of making CSP Obsolete – Solar Energy has become a Hotbed of Innovation with daily news of some new breakthrough in materials and process in PV Technology.Oerlikon has come out with a radial new a-Si Technology while CIGs player are touting increased efficiencies.Chinese Solar Companies have captured large chunks of the Solar Market through low cost leadership while number of Global Heavyweights like Posco,Samsung,Hyundai,Sharp,GE,TSMC promise to further decrease these costs.To bet Euro 400 Billion on a Technology that has a high probability of becoming obsolete is too risky.

4) Water Issue – Solar Thermal Plants use lots of Water which is Major Problem in Desert Areas.Using non-water cooling raises the cost of CSP projects too much.While using SeaWater has been proposed it remains to be seen if it possible to implement this solution as this would imply building Plants very near the Coastline

5) Energy Dependence – Currently Europe finds itself hostage to periodic Russian Gas Stoppages as it depends massively on imports of Oil and Gas.However this Project will replace one form of Energy Dependence to Another.Note using distributed PV note only cuts down on Transmission costs,it entirely eliminates the Energy Security Issue.

6) Ecological and Cultural Issues – The Usage of Massive Arrays of Mirrors is noted to heavily impact the Desert  Wildlife endangering the endangered species.California has already seen a massive fight on this issue with Project Developers curtailing the size of their Plants and spending money to move the wildlife.Don’t think this would receive too much attention in the African countries.They are also cultural issues with some of these Muslim countries might have in Exporting so much Energy to Christian Countries.

7) Terrorist Attacks and Rogue Regimes – The Transmission Lines become a prime Terrorist Target which would increase the cost of the Project as Multiple Lines are constructed.There is also the danger that a rogue regime takes control of the North African countries.This would create a situation akin to War over the  Suez Canal by Britain with Egypt.Any sort of Multilateral would impinge on the Sovereignty of the countries creating another problem.

8 ) White Elephant being Built to be Juiced by Companies – Their are  allegations that Desertec is nothing but a monstrous White Elephant being built by the Companies to juice European Taxpayers of Hundred of Billions of Euros.Note this Project cannot be constructed without Massive Subsides by European Countries which would have to be paid over the next 2-3 decades.It would lead to Billion Dollar Contracts for the Involved Companies and More Billions in Profits over the Lifetime of the Project.


The Desertec Initiative is the Biggest Green Energy Project ever conceived with a vast scale and an ambitious vision.However Desertec falls short on many parameters which are described above for it to ever reach fruition.While small scale versions of this Concept can be implemented like that by Solar Millennium in Egypt,the massive energy framework conceived by Desertec is  not feasible.The Huge Subsidies and High Costs make it uneconomical despite its Clean Energy Promise.


Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

5 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. hungry & thirsty

    The European countries are strong enough to do what they want , Energy is abandent on the desert so they just do what they did in Iraq and Europe s problem of Energy is solved.