ITER welcomes Desertec

It all started on Lake Geneva with a promise. During the dinner cruise marking the grand finale of this year’s Energy Security Congress, representatives of the ITER project and the solar energy project Desertec shared a table. Two ambitious endeavours set up to secure the world’s future energy supply through the power of the sun—one, by mimicking the process that powers the sun and other stars; the other by generating electricity from sun-drenched desert regions.

By the end of the evening, Oliver Steinmetz, one of the co-founders of Desertec who had (together with nine like-minded „brothers”) committed EUR 5,000 of his own funds to start the Desertec Foundation, promised that one day he would come to Cadarache to see the ITER project with his own eyes.

And so he did last week. After a crash course in fusion and ITER followed by a tour of the construction site, Oliver Steinmetz gave the first Inside ITER seminar in the new ITER amphitheatre.

The Desertec Foundation is an international non-profit collaboration of scientists, concerned individuals, and alternative-energy companies that believe that a combination of solar power from the world’s deserts and wind power can provide all the electricity society needs. The idea is driven by a simple equation: within six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the Sun that humankind consumes within one year. 

„In order to meet today’s global power demand (18,000 TWh/year), it would suffice to equip about three thousandths of the world’s deserts with solar collectors,” Steinmetz maintains. That’s about 90,000 square kilometres of desert, shown as a small red square on Desertec’s map of the Sahara desert—the same red square that has become the Desertec logo.

But the Sun’s energy is not the only target of Desertec. Their concept calls for the utilization of all sorts of renewable energies wherever they are most abundant (i.e., coastal areas for wind).
_To_40_Tx_Combined with sophisticated heat-storage technology, the power supplied by solar-thermal power plants can be made available day and night, complementing fluctuating renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaics. A low-loss, high-voltage direct current transmission grid would connect—across great distances—the production location with the centres of consumption.

For the EU-MENA region (Europe-Middle East-North Africa), the Desertec concept assumes, given the political will, that by 2050 a substantial portion of the electricity needs of the local markets and around 15 percent of European energy needs could be covered by power stations in the desert. This would entail estimated investments on the order of EUR 400 billion.

Before large-scale solar power plants and wind farms in North Africa and the Middle East with transmission grids reaching across to Europe become a reality, however, their technical feasibility must first be examined, the political course set, and the first reference plants initiated. This is why the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii GmbH) was founded in October 2009 in order to create the framework conditions to enable international trading in climate-friendly electricity as well as suitable investment incentives. Among the 13 founding members were the Deutsche Bank, Siemens, German energy giant RWE, and the second largest re-insurer, MunichRe.

The involvement of academic and research institutions in the EU-MENA region has since been promoted through the Desertec University Network (DUN) established in October 2010, which reunites universities and research facilities from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Jordan. Its aim: to contribute to the implementation of the Desertec concept.

At the end of his talk Oliver Steinmetz answered many questions on the maintenance of technology and the security of supply. "Delivering energy across borders—sometimes changing borders—is a matter of international cooperation and trust,” he concluded. Words that were not unfamiliar to the assembled ITER staff …

For more on the Desertec Foundation, see the project’s Red Paper.

Click here to download the pdf of the presentation.

Click here to watch the video of Inside ITER lecture.