Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Sahara Sun 'to help power Europe'

Solar mirrors. Image:
Energy from the Sahara plants is expected to supply Europe by 2015

A sustainable energy initiative that will start with a huge solar project in the Sahara desert has been announced by a consortium of 12 European businesses.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to supply Europe with 15% of its energy needs by 2050.

Companies who signed up to the $400bn (£240bn) venture include Deutsche Bank, Siemens and the energy provider E.On.

The consortium, which will be based in Munich, hopes to start supplying Europe with electricity by 2015.

Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to produce solar-generated electricity with a vast network of power plants and transmission grids across North Africa and the Middle East.

"The time has come to turn this vision into reality," said the company's chief executive, Paul van Son.

"That implies intensive co-operation with many parties and cultures, to create a sound basis for feasible investments into renewable energy technologies and interconnected grids."

The first stage will be to build massive solar energy fields across North Africa's Sahara desert, utilising concentrated solar power technology (CPS), which uses parabolic mirrors to focus the Sun's rays on containers of water.

'Pivotal initiative'

The super-heated water will power steam turbines to generate electricity 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year.

Network of transmission grids and power plants for Desertec's proposed solar project

The electricity will then be transported great distances to Europe, using hi-tech cables that suffer little conductive loss of power.

The move was "pivotal" in the transition of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East to sustainable energy supplies, said Mr Van Son.

Currently there are some small initiatives across Spain and parts of North Africa, but the scale of the Desertec initiative will surpass any other comparable projects.

Strong desire

The initiative has gained the support of the German government of Angela Merkel, who has already expressed a desire to offset a dependence on Russian gas supplies.

A number of North African countries have also expressed a strong desire to join the project, the company says, utilising their main sustainable natural resource - the Sun.

Some of the power generated by the Sahara solar energy fields will also be used by domestic African consumers, Desertec is keen to stress. North Africa has a small population relative to the size of its desert terrain, it says.

The concept was first announced in 2007 by the Desertec Foundation, with small pilot projects based in North Africa. Prince Hassan of Jordan has previously been mentioned as a big supporter.

Companies signed up to the consortium include ABB, Abengoa Solar, Cevital, HSH Nordbank, MAN Solar Millennium, Munich Re, M+W Zander, RWE and Schott Solar.

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