30 July 2013 – Earlier signs that the largely German led Desertec initiative was beginning to fail have been corroborated. The ambitious initiative launched in 2009 envisioned a power-generating operation across Morocco’s Sahara Desert using solar energy that would provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 via cables under the Mediterranean.
In July 2013, the Desertec Foundation revealed that its plans have fallen through because of conflict over the project’s corporate governance and its strategic objectives. Previous signs had also indicated a fading of the initiative. In 2012, Spain, the closest European state to the planned power grid in Morocco, refused to sign a declaration of intent to connect high-power voltage lines between Morocco and the rest of Europe.
Later, two of the biggest corporate backers of the project, Siemens and Bosch, backed out. The German government’s interest in the massive project began to wane amid the global economic downturn, and pro-democracy uprisings against dictatorial regimes across north Africa undermined the project and, officials observed, heightened the historical distrust among the region’s Arab states.
Klause Schmidtke, communications head of the Desertec Industrial Initiative, says, "We’re not happy about the decision, but it does not affect the realisation of desert power in the Middle East or North Africa."
Desertec has failed, but north African countries continue to see the benefit of tapping into solar energy. Egypt benefitted from crude oil exports in the 1990s; however, current reductions in yields produced by oil fields and increasing unsustainable energy subsidies are forcing the Egyptian government to take action. The Egyptian Solar Energy Development Association (SEDA) in Cairo sees potential application areas for solar energy in the form of solar installations for producing drinking water and intelligent lighting concepts for hotels. In addition to concentrating on tourism, statements from the Egyptian ministry of housing say that, over the next few years, standard measures will see public housing equipped with solar installations.
In Morocco, solar plants with a combined output of 2.0 GW are set to be installed by 2020, which means that the share of renewable energy in the Moroccan power grid could reach a total of 42%. Alongside solar energy, wind energy and hydropower are also expected to form part of this share. Under the supervision of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, the construction of a large solar thermal power (concentrated solar power (CSP)) project has begun at Ouarzazate. A capacity of 160 MW will be installed in the initial phase. Once completed, the power plant will reach an output of 500 MW.