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Renewable energy

September 30, 2009

A project to build giant solar power plants in North Africa has captured to the interest of "dozens" of firms who want to join the initiative, according to a newspaper report published Wednesday.

A solar power plant in the desert
Desertec is looking for investors to pay for its 400-billion-euro project

When the Desertec solar power initiative was first unveiled in July, a dozen German companies - including industrial giant Siemens and reinsurer Munich Re - agreed to cooperate and build a series of solar-thermal power plants in the deserts of North Africa and transmit the energy to Europe via underwater cables, providing up to 15 percent of the continent's electricity needs.

That list could soon swell, with "dozens" of companies from outside Germany vying to join the initiative, and with a negotiation round scheduled for Thursday, according to a report published Wednesday in the Handelsblatt daily newspaper

"The list of those who have expressed interest is long," Ernst Rauch, the Desertec project leader for Munich Re, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The Desertec Foundation did not respond to a request by Deutsche Welle to comment on the Handesblatt report.

The newspaper reports that the number of partners in the project will rise to about 20 by October and may include Italian utility Enel, Spanish company Red Electrica Espana, French utility EdF and a number of other companies in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.

Handelsblatt also reported that the initiative, currently organized as a non-profit venture, is in the process of transforming itself into a limited liability company and plans to begin recruiting both a chief executive officer for the company and a president who can serve as the public face of Desertec.

Energy security

Map of the project
Desertec wants to build thousands of solar power plants across North AfricaImage: DESERTEC Foundation

Although the initiative was dreamt up by German industry, Desertec will need all the partners it can get to become reality. The project's backers estimate the construction of the hundreds of solar power plants and transmission facilities will cost approximately 400 billion euros between now and 2050.

Since the project's announcement, the Desertec plan has captured the imagination of business and policy leaders in Europe and North Africa.

"This is a holistic concept, it's not only secure energy, it's not only climate change, it's also about migration, it's also about water, it's also about poverty," Desertec board member Max Schoen said in an interview with Deutsche Welle shortly before the project was unveiled.

Schoen and other Desertec founders envision the project helping to create jobs and economic growth on Europe's poverty-stricken periphery while also providing Europe with a secure source of carbon-free renewable energy.

Report: Brett Neely
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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