Desertec solar energy plans heats up

European companies are meeting in the German city of Munich to sign a memorandum of intent over plans to harness solar power to feed Western energy needs.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative consortium, which includes leading German companies such as energy giants RWE and E.ON, electro-engineering group Siemens, and major insurer Munich Re, is planning to turn the Saharan sun into European electricity.

"Of course it is still a long way off, but the enormous interest in the scheme shows we are on the right path," a spokesman for Munich Re said.

A study suggests that with the use of thermal power plants and high voltage direct current transmission lines, Desertec's pioneering foray into the desert could meet 15 percent of Europe's electricity needs by the year 2020.

Gerhard Knies, Chairman of the Desertec supervisory board says the desert is an obvious source of clean power.

"Within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year," he said adding that the "time appears right for a truly comprehensive manoeuvre to combat climate change."

 Desertec solar energy plans heats up 
Striding ahead

Siemens is keen to be a part of that manoeuvre. In an interview with the Spiegel news magazine, Chief Executive Peter Loescher said the electro-engineering company was positioning itself to become a leading international provider of solar energy.

"The world needs a broad energy mix," he said. "And that includes a wide spectrum of sources and innovative technology."

Loescher rejected suggestions that the 400 billion euro ($552 billion) Desertec venture was unviable. "Today's electricity highways can be highly efficient, both financially and technologically," the Siemens chief executive said.

Critics have slammed the Desertec initiative on the grounds of astronomical projected costs and regional political instability.