Desertec EU-MENA


A network of scientists from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA) developed the globally implementable DESERTEC Concept for the Mediterranean region. A long-term objective is to meet a considerable part of electricity demand in MENA countries and to cover about 15 percent of Europe’s energy demand with clean power from deserts by 2050. The idea of the DESERTEC Concept is to generate electricity from renewable sources at the places where they are most abundant. Within 6 hours, deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year. The sun shines all day on a belt that encompasses the globe either side of the equator – and with the technology that is now available, most countries could supplement their energy mix with clean electricity from deserts.

DESERTEC technology is encompassed by High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and Concentrating Solar-thermal Power (CSP). First, HVDC transmission is a way of carrying clean electricity over long distances to the places in the world which consume large amounts of energy. Around 90% of the human population live less than 3000 kilometers from deserts and could be efficiently supplied with clean desert electricity.There are dozens of lines up to 1700 km long (Inga-Shaba, Democratic Republic of Congo) with capacities of up to 5 gigawatts (Yunnan-Guangdong, China) already in operation around the world. HVDC lines are also used in Europe: Sardinia is connected to the mainland by undersea HVDC cable and there is a whole network of HVDC connections between central Europe and Scandinavia. HVDC lines take up less space than conventional AC power lines and can be laid over long distances underground. This increases public acceptance and means the network can be extended faster. Second, CSP plants are key to the DESERTEC Concept because they are ideal for utilizing the solar potential of the world’s deserts and supplying electricity on demand. A reflector area of just 20 square meters in a solar-thermal power plant is enough to supply all the electricity one person needs (including electromobility) day and night with no carbon emissions.

In desert regions near the coast, solar-thermal power plants can be combined with seawater desalination so that they not only produce electricity, but also drinking water. Air-cooled solar-thermal power plants combined with water-saving cleaning robots are particularly useful in desert locations inland. Many coastal areas are excellent locations for inexpensive wind power plants. Photovoltaic systems are useful for covering peak mid-day demand, for example from air conditioning systems. Solar-thermal power plants, as well as biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric and pumped storage plants, provide valuable, controllable electricity. This means they can be used to balance out the fluctuations of wind and photovoltaic power, so that more of these variable energy sources can be used in the future electricity mix.