Desertec – a European adventure in Morrocan hands?

While people are still discussing whether it is unjust for Europe to import not only oil and gemstones but also solar energy from Africa, and what the consequences for the local communities are, a new twist comes to the plot.

Let’s go back to the beginning: a consortium of large European companies founded the Desertec Foundation in order to raise money to start building huge solar plants, including Concentrated Solar Thermal Power“ (CSP). The consortium describes the biggest ever privatly financed renewables project optimistically as a win-win:

The DESERTEC Concept describes the perspective of a sustainable supply of electricity for Europe (EU), the Middle East (ME) and North Africa (NA) up to the year 2050. It shows that a transition to competitive, secure and compatible supply is possible using renewable energy sources and efficiency gains, and fossil fuels as backup for balancing power.

The new twist: While green grass-root organizations were probably waiting for Morrocan people to voice louder critique of the use of their resources, the Europeans business community now seems to start quarreling among itself. The french power company AREVA favours „cheap“ nuclear plants over the solar option. The company claims it would be cheaper for a country like Morroco – totally denying the big investment costs of a nuclear plant (true, Desertec has those as well). In addition, Morroco’s neighbours will not like a nuclear state in the Maghreb – especially since all countries in North Africa plan their first reactor and would be keen on winning support for this.

Now, Morroco holds it in its hand. The West African country that imports around 97% of its energy has a rapidly growing population and is the third most populated Arab state. It has to chose whether to build 3-4 nuclear plants or some decentralised solar plants and to be not only a net-energy exporter, but a role-model for the entire region. The crucial problem is: how much energy will be used in Morrocan homes? Both „competitors“ (Desertec and AREVA) pledge that the domestic energy supply has priority and only the additional energy will be exportet. It makes only little sense to import nuclear energy from the South (one can imagine the need for cooling at 120° F!), yet AREVA is interested in both concepts. However, building a nuclear plant can significantly lower the demand, thus impeding the realization of the much more environmentally friendly concept of Desertec.

This competition for North African energy-demand is nevertheless exactly what we need. The South can decide which offer from the North for investment it takes. (Yes, there are negative examples from Sudan and China.) Maybe the Nothern offers will get better from a Southern view and some justice – AND solar power – will be given to this world?