Desertec - Solar Power from African Deserts?


Desertec is renewable energy project based on getting energy from solar power plants in the Sahara desertFounded three years ago, the Desertec project, however, has come to a momentary standstill.  There is not enough political support for a project that could end Europe’s energy problems.

The ambitious project calls for the construction of solar power plants throughout the North African desert. Large mirrors would collect the sun’s heat and turn water into steam, which, in turn, would be used to run generators.


Investors have promised to raise over € 400 billion Euros to pipe clean solar energy from Northern Africa through an electrical grid to Europe by 2050. When completed solar energy could make up 15% of Europe’s energy demands by 2050.

But three years after the projected started in 2009 there is still not a single power plant in operation and in the past few weeks two main supporters of the project, German companies  Bosch and Siemens said they did not have the funds to support the project any longer. After the Arab Spring, the political landscape in Africa is more uncertain than ever. In addition, Spain, one of the key countries in the project, has refused to sign a deal that would connect power lines between Morocco and the European continent.


Politicians in Europe are hesitant because a renewable energy project on such a large scale costs a lot of money, funds that European countries do not have as a result of the Euro and Greek debt crisis. However, Europe needs more and more clean energy and solar power is the only energy source that can provide power on such a large basis.

In the first stage three power plants are supposed to be constructed in Morocco. Spain, however, has withdrawn its support. A deal without Spain is not likely because underwater power cables would have to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Such cables would be cheapest to build under the 14 km wide Strait of Gibraltar. From there electricity could move on to Central and Western Europe.

Although Northern African countries need more and more energy themselves they also need guaranteed exports in order to build such plants and make them profitable. Only if European countries promise to buy solar energy are they willing to construct such power stations.



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  • ambitious = great, with a lot of motivation
  • billion = a thousand million
  • collect = gather
  • connect = link
  • construct = build
  • construction = building
  • cross = to go from one side to another
  • deal =agreement
  • debt crisis = when governments spend more money than  they get
  • demands = here: what you need
  • electrical grid = network of electricity  that connects power stations
  • found – founded = start
  • funds = money
  • generator = a machine that produces electricity
  • guarantee =  promise
  • hesitant = uncertain about what to do or say
  • however = but
  • in addition = also
  • in operation = working
  • in turn = as a result
  • key = very important
  • mirror = piece of glass  that you can see yourself in
  • momentary = at the moment, right now
  • not likely = will probably not happen
  • pipe = here: transport
  • political landscape = the political parties in a country and the way they behave towards each other
  • political support = help that comes from politicians
  • power plant = building that produces electricity
  • profitable = money-making
  • promise = to say that you want to do something
  • raise = collect money
  • refuse = to say no
  • renewable = to be used over and over again
  • scale = size
  • sign = put your name on a document
  • solar = from the sun
  • source = basis
  • stage = part, phase
  • standstill = not moving further
  • steam = white smoke that comes from making water hot
  • strait = narrow passage of water  between two areas of land, usually connecting two seas
  • support = help; to be in favor of
  • throughout = in all of
  • uncertain = not sure
  • withdraw = pull back