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China eyes North African solar project

Chinese energy companies could take-off where their European counterparts have left and invest in a faltering African solar project thought too risky and costly

EUR 400 billion initiative could generate 125 gigawatts of electric power to Europe from Africa

Two German energy giants have pulled out of plans to invest in an initiative set to help power Europe via solar power from North Africa. The withdrawal opens further opportunity for Chinese energy companies to partake in the project.

This month both Siemens and Bosch announced they will no longer be part of the EUR 400 billion initiative which planned to generate 125 gigawatts of electric power to Europe with solar and other renewable energies from countries such as Morocco and Tunisia.

The Desertec initiative was set up in 2009 with a view to exploit the potential of solar and other renewables in North Africa and the Middle East and deliver electricity from a network of renewable energy sources to Europe via cables under the sea. Up to one fifth of Europe’s energy supply could be supplied by this means by 2050, it was envisaged.

One of the first concrete steps that Desertec announced was a plan to build three solar power plants in Morocco. A declaration of intent was due to be signed by Morocco, France, Italy, Malta, Luxemburg and Germany for the first Desertec project cooperation. But the Spanish government has already backed out for financial reason.

All might not be lost, however. While the ambitious plans were dismissed as too risky and unprofitable in the short-term by the European multinationals, last week, Chinese power company State Grid Corp (SGCC) made public it was interested in joining the project.

China might be willing to invest so that it can get access to technology. It is interested in learning how to use high-voltage direct current cables such as those proposed for bringing power across the Mediterranean, reported BBC News on 19 November.

US PV giant First Solar may also upgrade its role within the initiatve from “associated partner” to a full shareholder. Together with SGCC, the US company could join a consortium of about 20 other companies including ABB, Abengoa Solar, E.ON and RWE.