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The world’s most ambitious renewable energy project ever conceived may soon be underway in North Africa

2 July 2009 – The Desertec Project, has gained financial support from a consortium of companies including Deutsche Bank AG, Siemens AG, Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, The Club of Rome, and other, and this means the 400 billion euros ($560 billion) project may very shortly be underway.

Once a pipe dream of European scientists and engineers, the Desertec Project aims to establish 6,500 square miles of renewable thermal solar power plants in the Sahara Desert of North Africa, along with a super-grid of high voltage transmission lines to supply countries in Europe and Africa with electricity.

However, critics say the project is far too expensive and that solar technology has not reached maximum efficiency.  Swedish energy company, Vattenfall AB is not supporting the project.

“It costs too much money,” said Vattenfall CEO Lars Josefsson, in an with the Financial Times. “Besides that, the transmission costs are too high. I don’t think it’s realistic.”

“Europe should create its electricity in Europe,” he concluded.

Josefsson believes in building more coal-powered generating plants that have newer CCS technology aimed at lowering CO2 emissions.

Other expert fear dependence on Africa for energy, particularly given the political instability of some of the countries in North Africa.  In addition to opening the solar plants and transmission lines up to terrorist attacks.

The project will use Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology.  A thermal solar power plant works on the same principle by arranging a set of magnifying glasses and mirrors that produce a very powerful sunbeam. This sunbeam heats up water, turning it into steam that rotates turbines to produce electricity. The electricity is then carried via high-voltage transmission lines to users.

At night, the power generated during the day is stored in special salt-like batteries, which enables the turbines to be running through the night, creating a 24-hour generation system.

CSP is generally considered cheaper and cleaner and has lower maintenance costs compared to photovoltaic generation.  It is however, not as flexible as conventional photovoltaic technology.

“The project is sending a strong signal that investments in renewable energies don’t just make ecological sense, they make economic sense as well,” said a report in the Financial Times.