Info & FAQ

DESERTEC FLYER

Start to raise awareness for the energy potential of deserts

The DESERTEC Flyer gives a good overview for the global DESERTEC Vision. Feel free to forward our PDF-Flyer to your friends or print it for distribution at events to raise awareness for DESERTEC.

The more people understand the big picture and the scope for individual action, the quicker the DESERTEC Concept can become reality. 

English version, German version

(we are preparing further language versions, too)

FAQ

Technology: Questions and Concerns

It works just like a coal steam power plant, with the difference that concentrated solar power is used for steam production, instead of coal. Large mirrors are positioned in such a way that they reflect and concentrate the sunlight onto a certain point much like capturing sunlight through a magnifying lens. A major advantage of this technology is that a part of the sun’s heat can be collected in heat storage tanks during the day and then run through steam circuits at night or specifically during peak hours, depending on the demand. With this technology, renewable and controlled energy can be provided according to the demand of the electricity grid.

 

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy

 

A few facts and figures:

  • The research by the German Aerospace Center shows that CSP plants in North Africa and the Middle East will be capable of producing up to 470,000 MW by the year 2050.
  • The investment in the construction of a CSP plant with air-cooling which is capable of producing 250 MW currently amounts to approximately EUR 1 billion. 
  • In good locations, the solar plants can be operated at full capacity day and night on solar power alone thanks to heat storage tanks; the life-time of such a plant amounts to more than 40 years.
  • There are no fuel costs. The oil or gas saved by using renewables may remain underground or be sold at high prices on the world market (instead of combusting it under value at the location site).
  • If saltwater from nearby coasts is used instead of drinking water for the cooling units, a 250 MW collector field may be used to operate a 200 MW turbine and 100,000 m³ of drinking water may be produced a day (over 4 million liters per hour) through the process of water desalination.
  • By using level Fresnel reflecting mirrors, there is even the possibility of using the shade underneath collector fields for agricultural purposes.

The costs depend on the location of the production and length of the transmission lines. Exact figures for specific projects have to be determined individually. The figures stated between 6.5 c/kWh (with steady cash value from 2000) by the DLR study and 16 c/kWh by the industrial association ESTELA SOLAR are mere estimates and do not necessarily contradict each other because they are referring to different segments of the world market. The industry calculates on delivering top-level and middle-load capacities in the range of 2000 to 4000 full-load hours of capacity per year. This is the current state of technology. Compensating and regulating energy generates higher revenues than base loaders. However, it costs more because of the low utilization of the turbines. In the TRANS-CSP study however, the DLR has concluded that a considerable proportion (5000 to 7000 capacity hours) will be allocated to solar energy at the base loaders. Thus, a substantial amount of carbon dioxide can be avoided. Base loaders generate less revenue and cost significantly less thanks to the turbines being utilized to a greater extent

In arid regions, conventional oil, gas or coal-fired steam cycles are usually air-cooled, and CSP plants can be operated in the same way. Solar-thermal power plants can be cooled by air, and there are cleaning procedures that require very little water. Depending on the location, evaporation cooling towers and seawater cooling may be used because they are more efficient than air-cooling techniques. If saltwater from nearby coasts is used instead of drinking water for the cooling units, a 250 MW collector field may be used to operate a 200 MW turbine and 100,000 m³ of drinking water may be produced a day (over four million liters per hour) through the process of water desalination.

 

All details see AQUA-CSP study by German Aerospace Center (DLR):
www.dlr.de/tt/aqua-csp

Solar-thermal power plants have been operating in the Mojave Desert for over 20 years and have withstood hailstorms, sandstorms and cyclones. In the event of impending danger, the mirrors, which are rotatable, can be positioned in such a manner that they are protected. Should the mirrors break nonetheless (0.4% per year), replacements are part of the operating costs. Signs of wear and tear on the mirrors in Kramer Junction have not been an issue for the last 20 years. Today, the power plants work more efficiently as operating and maintenance methods are now better than when operations began.

According to a TRANS-CSP study, 17% of Europe’s energy requirements may be met by solar imports by 2050. This would involve 2,500 km² of desert surface for the solar power plants and 3,500 km² for the high-voltage direct current transmission lines throughout the entire EU-MENA region (Europe – Middle East – North Africa). This total surface area of 6,000 km² is as large as the Nasser reservoir near Aswan in Egypt. However, this reservoir provides only 3 gigawatt (GW) of electric power, whereas the solar power plants would deliver 100 GW of electric power. Solar power is actually the most compact and efficient renewable energy source worldwide. The MENA region amounts to 12 million square kilometers, of which only 2,500 km² (0.02% of the total area) will be required for the export power plants.

Today, the electric losses incurred by high-voltage direct current transmission lines (HVDC transmission lines) amount to 4-5% per 1,000 km of line, thereby increasing the price of the original energy source. These costs, plus capital and operating expenses for the power lines, account for around 1-2 c/kWh, depending on the length of the lines, in addition to the cost of production. However, the two- or threefold insolation in North Africa sufficiently makes up for the transportation costs to Europe. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has estimated in its studies that the costs of producing and transporting solar-thermal power between 2020-2030 will be lower than that of the conventional power production technologies in Europe which are subject to constantly rising fuel prices and environmental costs. Planning and approval times lie in the discretion of the countries involved and could be accelerated by appropriate regulations enforced by the EU.

What is important for public acceptance: High-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission can be used both with overhead lines and with underground cables. Therefore, in contrast to AC technology, HVDC provides the possibility to use underground cables for the transmission of electrical energy even over long distances. The technical design and economic assessment of necessary grid infrastructure for power transmission to Europe is an essential part of the roll-out plan to be worked out under the Dii. Furthermore, it is easier to communicate the need for the network to the general public should solar energy be used, instead of energy from coal or nuclear sources. The case is similar to that of highways: Of course, such a network is an environmental hazard that can only be justified through the substantial advantages and benefits for the environment which it creates. This is the case for DESERTEC.

 

You can find a DLR analysis of the ecobalance of transmission lines here:

www.dlr.de/tt/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-2885/4422_read-6587/

 

For HVDC, see also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-voltage_direct_current

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HVDC_projects

In principle, hydrogen as an energy carrier has an advantage over electricity. However, the conversion of solar energy into hydrogen, and the re-conversion of hydrogen into electricity for the supply network would involve a loss of 50% of the original energy used. With HVDC transmission, only 10-15 % of this energy is lost. There would also be pumping losses when transporting the hydrogen gas to Europe. Also, hydrogen would have to be generated from water which is rare in the desert. Therefore, it is more sensible to transport solar energy via HVDC transmission involving lower loss rates to Europe, where hydrogen can be generated.

By 2050, the energy demand in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) will probably be approximately the same as that of Europe due to their rapidly increasing personal consumption. One can strengthen the expansion of renewable energy for personal consumption in MENA through certificate trading if necessary, but this cannot replace the necessary solar power imports to Europe. Climate change can only be stopped with the actual physical avoidance of CO2 emissions. We need well controllable solar energy for MENA and Europe.

Electric cars are primarily additional electricity consumers for which further sustainable sources of energy have to be harnessed. They increase the demand for domestic sources and solar power imports, and represent an important option for electric load management, in addition to being important for the transportation sector. However, they cannot fulfill the higher demands on the storage of electricity, which would mean that solar imports could be dispensed with. Exported solar power plants do not have to save for seasonal shortages because there is a relatively uniform supply of solar power throughout the year in North Africa and the Middle East. 

The import of electricity from wind energy or photovoltaic energy is not excluded, but these sources of energy involve some significant disadvantages compared to solar-thermal power plants. There are indeed large wind energy potentials in the Sahara, particularly along the Atlantic coast and the Red Sea, which are economical at the same time. However, wind energy is not controllable according to demand and is therefore less valuable than solar energy. Wind energy potential is not nearly as large as solar energy potentials and is, as such, used widely as a cheap source of energy for local energy requirements in MENA. Exporting wind energy, which is fluctuating in nature, in large quantities to a region that has too few controllable energy sources at its disposal would not be welcomed by European energy consumers and providers. Less of the HVDC transmission capacity would be utilized (approximately 50% of their full capacity) and their operation would hence become more expensive. The potential of seasonal balance effects which can be attained would not nearly be as large as that of the systematic import of controllable energy from solar-thermal power plants. The same can be said of photovoltaic energy as an exportable power source: Only 25% of the power line capacity would be utilized. Together with European domestic sources, solar-thermal power plants can deliver the controlled energy required as well as the basic supply, thereby dramatically increasing the utilization of the HVDC transmission lines. The TRANS-CSP scenario describes power line utilization at an initial 60% in 2020, rising to 80% by 2050.

International network versus decentralization

The TRANS-CSP study in 2006 illustrated a transition to a safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly – in short: sustainable - electric power supply for Europe between 2000 and 2050.

 

Resource allocations in Europe’s power mix of the TRANS-CSP scenario

Year

2000

2010

2020

2030

2040

2050

Renewables in EU

2%

8%

20%

27%

35%

46%

Hydro-energy

18%

18%

17%

16%

17%

18%

Crude oil & natural gas

21%

24%

22%

23%

18%

9%

Coal

30%

28%

26%

23%

17%

9%

Nuclear energy

29%

22%

14%

6%

1%

0%

Imported solar energy

0%

0%

2%

5%

11%

17%

Total

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Source: www.dlr.de/tt/trans-csp

The transition to sustainable energy is based primarily on domestic sources of renewable energy. Since the majority of the domestic sources are fluctuating in nature (photovoltaic and wind power), short-term balancing and controlling capacities based on quickly controllable gas power plants will become necessary, which can only be replaced on a medium and long-term basis by well-controlled solar energy imports and domestic controllable sources such as bio-mass and geothermal energy. By significantly decreasing the share of conventional power plants, CO2 release can be used in a sensible manner, despite the highly limited end-storage capacities. As domestic sources of controllable and renewable energy are limited, importing storable and controllable solar energy (“Power on demand”) can optimally supplement the domestic energy mix.

The following chart shows the amount of power produced per square kilometer of land surface per year:

Biomass power plants

1-2 GWh/km²/a

(Central Europe)

Geothermal power plants

1-2 GWh/km²/a

(Turkey, Italy, Alsace)

Wind farms

5-50 GWh/km²/a

(Coast and offshore)

Hydro-power plants

5-50 GWh/km²/a

(Norway, the Alps)

Photovoltaic

10-100 GWh/km²/a

(Southern Europe)

Solar-thermal power plants

100-250 GWh/km²/a

(North Africa)

 

The best typical locations are named in the table – they are allocated the higher figures. One gigawatt hour per year (GWh/a) means one million kilowatt hours per year. It can be clearly seen that power from deserts is the most compact and largest energy source available to mankind. The total potential of deserts and semi-deserts worldwide has been calculated at 3,000,000 terawatt hours per year (TWh = 1 billion kWh), according to the DLR. That is a multiple of the current global energy consumption of approximately 18,000 TWh/a.

In locations in North Africa, solar-thermal power plants are capable of supplying cheap electricity on demand round the clock and throughout the year, thanks to their thermal energy storage possibilities, whether it be to balance out demand fluctuations or to cover the base load. This aspect of controllability of imported solar energy makes it much more valuable for it may attain higher prices compared to fluctuating sources such as wind and photovoltaic generators. Our domestic sources of energy, which are both renewable and controllable, such as geothermal power, biomass and hydro power, are not enough to economically provide the necessary balanced and controlled energy within the given time frame for reasons of climate protection. 

In the battle against climate change and increasing prices, decentralized and internationally linked renewable energy sources optimally complement each other: Hydro-power, off-shore wind power and power from deserts sustainably maintain the power production costs of the energy providers at a stable level and may even decrease them. But photovoltaic energy will, in 5 to 10 years, be able to compete with consumer power prices charged by the energy providers when it comes to energy supply during the day, thereby maintaining the electricity prices at a low level. The consumer will be able to choose whether he wants to produce his own energy or purchase it from a provider for his energy requirements during the day. 

Excluding large corporations from climate protection doesn’t really make sense. Monopolistic structures are not a prerequisite to DESERTEC, and working only with small, decentralized units of supply and efficiency cannot attain the sustainable supply required to meet the energy needs of fast-growing cities worldwide. What’s more important is to find a sensible and necessary supplement for the existing supply. This is where large corporations can play a useful role. Within 5-10 years, photovoltaics will probably be able to compete with consumer energy prices charged by energy providers during the day and hence keep them low. Since the power production costs of energy providers are significantly lower than that of private production, they will have enough elbow room to exist in future markets (particularly if they focus in a timely manner on renewable sources of energy which are stable in terms of price). Should energy providers be willing to make massive investments in renewable sources of energy, this will be a welcome development with regard to climate protection.

Solar-thermal power production will comprise many different projects distributed over the entire region, and not just one mega-project. Power production from domestic sources will, in all events, take priority in every country. In the scenarios put forward by the DLR, 65% of Europe’s energy will come from domestic sources of renewable energy by the year 2050, and 17 % will be imported solar energy. As a renewable, but easily controllable source of energy, solar power imports optimally complement the domestic mix of energy sources, which are mostly fluctuating in nature. Decentralized structures from Scandinavia to North Africa require an efficient network. The countries in the Middle East and North Africa as well as those in Europe can focus their supply on renewable sources in the long term. Solar power exports are also a sensible source of income for these countries.

Statements by experts from North Africa and the Middle East can be found in our Whitebook.

Dependency and security of energy supply

We ask our Arabic readers for their understanding regarding the nature of the questions and the way they are expressed. Such questions and concerns are actually directed toward us quite often.

  • It makes sense for Europe to buy solar energy from North Africa and the Middle East because it can be produced more cheaply there and solar-thermal power plants are able to supply electricity reliably, thus offering advantages over the renewable sources in Europe which are mostly fluctuating in nature; they also efficiently complement the existing forms. Should energy prices be forced to rise due to, say, delivery interruptions, these two market advantages would be lost as this would be the case with European customers in the medium term. The big difference with regard to the dependency on fossil fuels lies here: Renewable power can be produced just as well in Europe, albeit at higher costs and requiring more input. It is hence in the interest of the power-exporting countries to offer an economical and reliable product; otherwise the demand would decrease and a drop in investments, export revenues and employment could be expected. In this sense, an energy cartel much like the model of OPEC tends to be self-destructive and makes little sense. Solar power that is not delivered is thus lost and may not be sold later at a higher price as with oil or gas.
  • The TRANS-CSP scenario illustrates the following picture for the power production mix of Europe for the year 2050: 65% own renewable energies, 17% solar power imports and 18% fossil backup and top-loaded power plants. The failure of power plants and pipelines can be easily compensated for until their repair or a political solution using stand-by gas power plants. There will not be one large transmission line or one big solar-thermal power plant, but hundreds of power plants in a net of renewable energy sources located on several continents. Both state and small or major private investors can / should / want to participate in the power plants and power lines. The financing of these power lines could take advantage of, for example, pension funds which are looking for secure, long-term investment opportunities that are sustainable and ensure peace. Pension funds, in particular, are interested in a form of energy supply which functions economically since their investments in Europe require it as well.  
  • Solar energy is practically unlimited and, through a consolidated utilization of solar technologies, it becomes more favorable. This means that there are no conflicts and competition despite growing demand for resources which are limited both regionally and quantitatively as is the case with oil, gas or uranium. Instead, additional power plants and lines can simply be constructed. The possibility of charging batteries or of producing hydrogen economically with clean power could also make the transport sector less dependent on fossil fuels. Furthermore, sustainably produced biomass could be used more sensibly in the transport sector than for the production of electricity.
  • As can be seen in Europe, mutual networks and interconnecting ensures peace and cohesion amongst countries. By the creation of education and employment opportunities as well as better general living conditions, DESERTEC is an ideal anti-terror program.

No, because we also expand the number of suppliers, thereby reducing the risk of supply failure. After all, the number of stand-by options increase with every new trade connection.

It is more likely that parties which are not mutually dependent become involved in conflicts with one another than parties which are interdependent on one another. By 2050, the South Mediterranean region will have roughly the same economic power and population as Europe and hence similar energy requirements. Isolating this region would be much more dangerous for Europe than a joint effort towards a sustainable energy supply system. On a global scale, there will be a change of paradigm in terms of political security, which will replace the conflicts increasing worldwide over limited resources with a joint international effort to harness renewable resources. 

According to the TRANS-CSP study by the DLR, imported solar energy from the entire MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) could cover approximately 17% of Europe’s energy requirements by 2050. The future energy mix is - much like today – determined at 125% of the top load, including 25% reserve capacity for emergencies. Hence, there would be enough energy available even if all the solar power plants and high-voltage direct-current transmission lines (HVDC lines) fail simultaneously – which is a highly unlikely event in itself. However, this reserve energy would stem substantially from stored fossil fuels and reserve power plants. A strong EU-MENA association with HVDC transmission lines could continue to supply energy during events of this kind, unlike the alternating-current network of today. 

 

See also: www.dlr.de/tt/trans-csp

In many states of the MENA region the political situation is dominated by uncertainty. The Arab Spring has crushed old existing power structures; gave political actors the chance to communicate their thoughts and beliefs freely and has given the people the chance to participate in the political process. The DESERTEC Foundation believes that investments in renewable energies can create jobs and economic wealth and hence, constitute prosperity.
The voices bringing this argument up, like to neglect the fact that in the past and present a lot of money has been invested in the oil and gas industry in exactly the same countries.
Through reciprocal cooperation and involvement of the technology-target-countries, partners can develop an intrinsic motivation to keep the power plants in operation.

The benefits for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

  • We are currently exploiting the region of gas and oil. However, solar energy is practically boundless and harnessing it may contribute to the technological development of the region.
  • By 2050, MENA will have the same power and drinking water requirements as Europe, and will urgently need renewable energy production to meet these needs. This necessity was the starting point of the ‘MED-CSP’, ‘TRANS-CSP’ and `AQUA-CSP´ studies.
  • Fossil fuels may be saved in MENA’s (subsidized) power supply, and lucrative sales on the world market are possible. In addition, revenues from the export of electricity are created by utilizing unused renewable energy potentials.
  • The effects of climate change caused by Europe will be felt first in the MENA region. Thus, it is only fair if Europe promotes the introduction of renewable energies in MENA. Transfer of technology as well as educational and academic programs are explicitly promoted within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean.
  • Employment is created in MENA for engineers and in the construction of collectors.
  • It is left to the sovereignty of the producing countries as to whether they use the clean energy to meet their own demands first and finance this energy supply through the profits that they earn from selling or dispensing with the fuels that are thus saved, or sell the energy profitably to Europe and wait until the relevant technology becomes cheaper. In the light of the enormous potential that solar energy entails, these countries could take advantage of both possibilities at the same time.

Statements by experts from North Africa and the Middle East can be found in our Whitebook.

If one uses oil and gas oneself, it cannot be sold. When the oil price hit 150 dollars per barrel in the summer of 2008, it was double the costs of energy from a concentrating solar collection field. Gas and oil-producing countries can hence spare their valuable sources of fossil energy. Climate protection focuses primarily on avoiding the combustion of fossil energy sources. This naturally means reducing global consumption as well as exploiting and exporting coal, oil and gas. Solar power exports open a real economic alternative for many producing and exporting countries of oil, gas and coal. Increasing drinking water shortages in North Africa, Southwest Asia and worldwide will require enormous additional energy supplies for sea water desalination in the medium term. These supplies of energy can only be supplied by solar-thermal power plants in a safe, economical and environmentally friendly manner.

  • For a cooperation and integration into the European power network, North Africa and the Middle East come to mind first because of the proximity rather than South/Central Africa.
  • Renewable sources of energy in general and solar-thermal power plants in particular are just as suitable for the rest of Africa which can also profit from the cost reductions in the north.
  • We are also promoting the DESERTEC Concept in China, Australia, America, and India for the realization of “Clean power from deserts,” but our means are limited.
  • Therefore, we are building regional DESERTEC networks worldwide which can profit from our know-how and research.

An investment subsidy for CSP sources amounting to less than EUR 10 billion making CSP cost competitive should be considered as an investment in a safe and inexhaustible energy source of the future. In terms of the atmosphere and climate protection, it does not matter whether the CO2 emissions arise or are avoided in Europe or the MENA region. In the end, the speed of the CO2 reduction is the decisive factor.

There is an abundance of solar energy in the deserts and wind energy in the western part of North Africa. This could be used not only to meet the energy and desalinated water requirements of these countries, but a part of the energy needs of Europe could also be covered by imported clean power. In addition to reducing future conflicts over water and energy resources, many further advantages will also be created for the citizens of all participating countries.

  • Avoiding human and financial losses through environmental catastrophes which are triggered when fossil and atomic fuels continue to be combusted to harness energy.
  • Increasing the value of desert and coastal regions by transforming them into inexhaustible sources of power and water.
  • Development of an economy which is based on know-how and technology in the MENA region, thus allowing these countries to overcome under-development and poverty on their own on a medium and long-term basis.
  • An enormous order volume for the companies involved in the construction of the solar-thermal power plants, wind parks and HVDC transmission lines as well as hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry. 
  • Competitive energy can be produced in a few years due to technical improvements and falling costs in mass production of solar-thermal power plants, wind farms and HVDC transmission lines.
  • The possibility of economically producing hydrogen or charging batteries with clean energy would decrease the dependency of the transport sector on diminishing fossil fuels in the long term. In addition, the need for biomass in power production would decrease, and hence make its consolidated use in the transportation sector possible.
  • Role-model function for other industrial states such as the USA, India, Australia and China.

DESERTEC WHITEBOOK

DESERTEC WhiteBook

DESERTEC began in 2003 and was developed by an international network of politicians, scientists and economists known as the TREC network, from which the DESERTEC Foundation arose. From 2004 to 2007, the TREC network, under the stewardship of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), produced studies on implementing the DESERTEC Concept in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The results of the MED-CSP, TRANS-CSP and AQUA-CSP studies were summarized in the DESERTEC WhiteBook and presented to the European Parliament in 2007 by Prince Hassan bin Talal.

PDF: Summary of the studies (Excerpt from the WhiteBook)

PDF: Complete WhiteBook (revised version of 2008)

Dii’s study "Desert Power 2050"

Dii’s study "Desert Power 2050: Perspectives on a Sustainable Power System for EUMENA" demonstrates that a power system based on more than 90% of renewable energy is technically possible and economically viable. The main message from the study could not be clearer: grid integration across the Mediterranean is valuable under all foreseeable circumstances. Besides promoting economic growth and leading to new areas for cooperation between Europe and MENA, power from the desert also offers solutions to the most pressing issues of our time: fossil fuel dependency and climate change.

Website of the study

Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook

This study by Greenpeace and EREC from 2010 shows that by 2050, solar energy from the world’s sun belt could supply 20% of the global energy requirements and thus greatly contribute towards meeting the 2 °C global warming target. By combining energy-saving measures, decentralized renewables and an international network of renewable energies, we can reduce carbon emissions for electricity, heat and transportation by more than 80% by 2050. If we drive forward the introduction of renewable energy, we can save nearly €5.000 billion in fuel costs by 2030, which will more than cover the cost of converting the worldwide electricity supply and will create 12 million jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Website of the study & PDF: Summary