2009/07/20

Desertec

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Desertec - it's been in German news for weeks, apparently in other European news as well. It's been almost completely ignored by U.S., Australian and New Zealand's news as far as I can tell.

It's a huge and credible project of European companies to establish a renewable energy supply in North Africa with continuous current power line links to Europe.

Desertec is a big enough effort to provoke comparisons with Manhattan and Apollo projects and could prove to be the most important grand strategic factor for Europe in the 21st century.

I wrote about such ideas (which were circulating for about three decades in Europe) in 2007, and it's obvious that the European powers will need to be involved although the project itself will by driven and financed by private companies.
State-funded R&D has apparently already ensured the feasibility, but that was only a small step in comparison to what lies ahead.


Such a huge project would link Europe with Northern Africa and require a close and reliable relationship.

Just a short collection of thoughts:

* We would care a lot about political stability and reliability of the Northern African countries

* Northern African economic and social problems would become an issue for us because they could destabilize governments. Economic aid policy and trade policy could reflect that.

* Lesser objectives like establishing democracy and human rights would most likely be subordinated to energy political stability and reliability. This could similar to the Cold War's competition in the Third World when support for dictators depended almost entirely on whether they declared to be "socialist" or "anti-socialist".

* A formal alliance (that prevents other alliances for the Arab countries in the fine print) may develop. This could be an extension to NATO or it could replace NATO.

* Any unification movement would likely be in opposition to Europe because a unified Northern African/Arab Region would be less easily influenced (see previous blog posts here and here).

* We would most certainly not accept being cut off of our energy supply and go to war to secure it just as Japan did in 1941 when cut off from its oil supply.

* European nations would re-orient their military to the south; a huge increase in amphibious capability and dedicated defences for the power lines would be likely.

* We would want to make the Northern African countries more dependent on us to increase the safety of the project.

* We could even take the modern equivalent of hostages (investments of influential Arab elites in Europe, attracting the Arab elites' youth into European universities and companies).

* Northern Africa would possibly become an interest sphere for European foreign policy (and I think that such a common European policy would indeed be feasible in this context). We wouldn't allow third much country influence in this area. That could create conflicts with the PR China and the USA.

* Several European powers would likely not agree that a high degree of dependence on Northern Africa is a good idea. Some or all European countries would limit the project to a small or no share of their energy supply (Norway, for example).

* The company Desertec would be allowed its profits, but most likely become as politicized as Gazprom in Russia. I expect a very tight political control of the company and senior politicians in its boards.


info on Desertec:
Summary
White Book
Welt articles (German)
FAZ articles (German)
FTD articles (German)

Desertec - if realized only a quarter as big as planned - could become the most important factor in European grand strategy of the 21st century (unless the nuclear fusion power would really become practical in the 2nd half). Its effects would be as important as the Cold War for Europe - and might replace the oil riches for Arab countries.

Sven Ortmann
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5 comments:

  1. Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden is too far away from north africa to import power due to power losses and the probelms with getting more lines built.

    And scandinavia is already turning into an energy exporter to Denmark, Holland, northern Germany and northern Poland.

    The next larger energy export player is France and these efforts are much more of a competition for them.

    Best regards Magnus Redin

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  2. There's no electric business competition between countries - it's between companies.

    Many of today's nuclear & combustion power plants will be obsolete and too old in a few decades when Desertec is supposed to be in full swing.

    The present electric supply situation is therefore of relatively small interest (except hydroelectric power; that's why I mentioned Norway).

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  3. Don't forget to mention the critics and their valid questions:

    * Desertec is aiming at only 15% market share (I think those 15% refer to the electrical market only, excluding heat and transport)

    * There are valid arguments around that those 15% could very well be achieved LOCALLY with the same (or less) funding using renewable technologies

    * First of all Desertec will have to deliver to the African countries, and only after that, when a surplus supply has been established, exporting electrical power will make political sense

    * Right now Desertec is still too expensive, the African countries would not want to pay for it

    * Where are the required amounts of water (for the conventional turbine) supposed to come from? My guess is that the DLR has already looked into that, but so far I haven't heard about this part of the idea.

    * First use the unused potential in Spain in Sicily nearby before turning to another continent!

    My conclusion so far:

    Bringing Europe closer to northern Africa will be a good thing (tm), and this will surely happen within the framework of the EU (and certainly not NATO).

    As long as the local options and potential is still expanded and funded, then I can happily agree to also run this large scale idea, which only the large established power companies can handle: That is precisely why they are interested in it.

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  4. Go also to this thread and find out more ...

    http://www.wallstreet-online.de/diskussion/1073576-4581-4590/solar-millenium-diskussionsforum#neuster_beitrag

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  5. My belated humble opinion is that Desrtec is a paharaonic expansionist project, good for the Northern European companies selling goods and services to the aborigines in the South, but ultimately with the imperialist aim of controlling the Med and Northern Africa.

    It reminds me of the Berlin Baghdad railway, and we all know what that led to.

    Northern Europeans may be jealous of US dominance in the Middle East, and they have found the "peacefull equivalent" in Northern Africa.

    Once there, of course, sitting on vast gas reserves, I am sure that "solar" will be their goal. Fairy tales for little children which, we, Southern aborigines will react to.

    African countries should keep their gas, and the Europeans should keep their mirrors.

    You have lost two World Wars. Is that not enough?

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