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Desertec ready to open up to China

(Europolitics)- With two German industry heavyweights, Bosch and Siemens, pulling out of Desertec, the huge green power project based on the Southern banks of the Mediterranean, the consortium’s leaders are trying to convince Chinese and American firms to join. Fresh cash would be welcome as political support, especially in Germany, is becoming increasingly discreet. Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger pointed out, at the latest Desertec conference, on 8 November in Berlin, that the bulk of the project’s financing would have to come from the private sector.

This seems a far cry from the support expressed last June by the energy commissioner’s services, when the Director-General of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii), Paul van Son, presented his report, ‘Desertec power 2050’, which explains the benefits for Europe of a large-scale energy loop connecting the countries of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa (EUMENA). Estimated at more than €400 billion, the project, described as “pharaonic” by some, aims first and foremost to provide up to 20% of Europe’s electricity needs. It is particularly interesting for Germany, which has been looking for new sources of electricity since deciding to phase out its nuclear power industry. It is no surprise that the project initiators are German, including the reinsurance firm Munich Re, energy groups EON and RWE, and Deutsche Bank. The consortium currently has 21 member companies and 36 partners in around 15 countries.

POLITICAL SOLUTION

But due to the recent decision by German groups Siemens and Bosch to pull out of the Desertec project, its leaders are knocking at new doors, starting with the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC). “Discussions are under way on the possibility of SGCC becoming a shareholder,” confirmed a Desertec spokesman, “as well as the American firm First Solar”. The US firm has a solar panel plant in Germany and is already an associate member of the project. The presence of SGCC in Desertec’s capital would offer a dual advantage. In the technical sphere, the grid manager masters the direct current technique, essential for transporting electricity over long distances. Its presence in the consortium would also contribute to a political solution to the conflict pitting China against the EU (anti-dumping investigation related to Chinese solar panel manufacturers).

Meanwhile, Desertec’s first pilot project is slow getting off the ground. Based in Morocco and with total capacity of 150 MW, it is being carried out by seven countries: Morocco, France, Italy, Germany, Malta, Luxembourg and Spain. The project, estimated at more than €600 million, entails complex cost-sharing negotiations. Spain in particular is reluctant to absorb the costs of the new power link between Morocco and Spain.

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