The Future of Solar Energy Grids Post-DESERTEC

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BRADFORD, New York — It is no secret that solar power is one of our best chances for a sustainable supply of energy. Furthermore, The Center for American Progress reports that the cost of solar technology has fallen by more than 99 percent since 1977. Given this progress, solar energy grids must be explored, in developing countries and the world as a whole.

One of the best-known projects to convert to solar technology was DESERTEC. Founded in 2009, DESERTEC aspired to create one of the world’s largest solar energy grids linking Africa, Europe and Asia. To do this, the organization utilized concentrative solar-thermal power (CSP) which collects solar energy to heat water and drive turbines. According to the company, this process is believed be more easily stored and incur fewer losses than alternatives.

In the early years of operation, the first test plant in Morocco showed signs of success. DESERTEC hoped to surpass nuclear energy sources, especially following the Fukushima disaster, and the company also produced a new map demonstrating how a 6,500 square mile block in the Sahara received enough sunlight to power the entire globe.

However, DESERTEC faced a significant shake-up in 2014 when the majority of shareholders sold their stake in the project. In fact, the company was forced to dissolve entirely and spurred a new entity known as the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII). The reason for this outcome was multi-faceted, including the political risks of the so-called Arab Spring in the region as well as a surge in solar power supply in Europe.

As DII, the group has adjusted its mission, now focusing on increasing the competitiveness of all renewable energy and acting as a consulting firm for other energy projects in the area. DII also promotes the benefits of solar energy grids for social welfare, internal political stability, job creation and regional cooperation. So far, DII has still been successful in its partnerships with other groups such as AWS Technology and working to promote ‘Ultimate Trough’ technology.

According to the Economist, solar power in Africa is still relatively expensive for the area; many segments of the population are still constrained by a lack of access to finance. However, investments in infrastructure are surging recently due to advances in technology and adjusted business models.

Likewise, the U.S. Department of Energy asserts the profuse benefits of solar power grids. With a large geographical span, such as across multiple time zones, the grid can still power facilities when energy is not being produced. In addition, any excess energy can be fed back into the grid, and depending on the company provider, customers can be credited for their clean energy production.

Regardless of the nuances, more than 90 percent of the world’s population is said to live within 1,800 miles of a desert, which is roughly the same distance that some electricity is currently transported. Therefore, companies like DESERTEC and other investments into solar energy grids offer a promising solution for clean power and economic development across the developing world.

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Zach Machuga

Zach lives in Bradford, NY. He has a passion for economic development and world travel. Academically, he has a dual Bachelors degrees in International Studies and Economics, and is currently pursuing a Masters with Northeastern University in Global Studies, concentrating in Sub-Saharan Africa. Zach is a proud dairy farmer and Lady Gaga enthusiast!

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