The Desertec Project


The DESERTEC Concept was developed by a network of politicians, scientists and economists from around the Mediterranean, from which arose the DESERTEC Foundation. It demonstrates a way to provide climate protection, energy security and development by generating sustainable power from the sites where renewable sources of energy are at their most abundant.

The Desertec Foundation provides a remarkably different energy view to IEA’s. They believe that the amount of renewable energy that can be exploited with current technology can provide all the energy required to power all of human civilization indefinitely. In particular, the Desertec map below shows how much land area in the Sahara is required to power the entire planet, using EXISTING TECHNOLOGY. This flies directly in the face of energy analysts who claim we need dirty fossil fuel for the next 50 years. The Desertec Foundation’s calculations are based upon rigorous scientific analysis. This leads us to question why the IEA projections are so low with respect to the global market share of renewables.

The Desertec Foundation project is based on some very compelling figures:

  • Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts world-wide, this is several hundred times the entire current energy consumption of the world.
  • Less than 1% of the world’s deserts, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, could produce as much electricity as the world now uses
  • Within six hours, deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year
  • Even allowing for increases in demand, a combination of CSTP with other technologies can enable Europe to cut CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 70% by the year 2050, and phase out nuclear power at the same time
  • 90% of the world’s population lives within 3000 km of a desert and high efficiency HVDC transmission lines with only 3% loss could supply energy to them
  • The cost of collecting solar thermal energy is currently equivalent to one barrel of oil is about US$65 right now and it is projected to decrease to US$26 in future.

Figure 1: Amount of area using Concentrated Solar Power to power the planet (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)
Approximately 338 square kilometers covered with Concentrated Solar Power could power the entire planet. In addition, 90 percent of the world’s population lives within 3,000 km of deserts. This means that DESERTEC‘s ideas can be applied across the world by using low loss HVDC transmission.


  • sufficient supplies of inexpensive, clean electricity for all of human civilization
  • global scalability can significantly reduce worldwide emissions of CO2:
  • China and India can leapfrog coal and oil, making cuts in CO2 emissions whilst maintaining or increasing their energy supplies
  • Saudi Arabia can move directly from being oil-rich to being solar-rich
  • The USA can meet all its energy needs from its south western states
  • green jobs
  • in arid regions, the creation of fresh water by the desalination of sea water using the waste heat from CSP plants
  • potential for growing plants for food and other uses in the shaded areas under the solar mirrors (using desalinated sea water), turning nonproductive land into productive agricultural
  • global security

The Desertec Concept

Andasol 3 CSP plant opens in September 2011

The TuNur Project — Tunisian sun will light Europe

Figure 2: Desertec EU – MENA

Figure 3: Desertec EU-MENA Siemens diagram

Energy is available in abundance and we have the technology to use it

Thanks to heat storage tanks, concentrating solar-thermal power plants in deserts can supply electricity on demand day and night. This makes them an ideal complement to fluctuating energy sources such as wind and photovoltaic power and allows a higher percentage of these variable energy sources to be used in the future electricity mix.


DESERTEC combines climate protection and energy security with development and security policy

DESERTEC is a comprehensive solution that not only aims to cover our increasing energy needs, but also to reduce carbon emissions before global warming gets out of control. Alongside climate protection and ensuring the energy supply, it also has many benefits in terms of development and security, such as providing needed seawater desalination. At the following link you can find the scientific basis of the DESERTEC Concept.


DESERTEC is applicable across the world

The best sites in a region can be used thanks to High-Voltage Direct Current transmission. In contrast to conventional AC transmission, HVDC can carry electricity generated from renewables over long distances with losses of just 3 percent per 1,000 kilometers. As 90 percent of the world’s population lives within 3,000 km of deserts, DESERTEC can be realized in:

  • Europe,
  • the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA).
  • Sub-Saharan Africa,
  • Southern Africa,
  • the Americas,
  • Australia,
  • India
  • the whole of East Asia

To explore the huge potential of renewable energy which serves as the foundation for the Desertec project, the Desertec Foundation has made a Google Earth Map available at the webpage here. Alternatively, you can download the kmz file directly here.

Desertec Global Energy Potential Maps

The foundation has undertaken a global study of all renewable energy potential and has released maps to the public.

 Figure 4: Global CSP potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)
 Figure 5: Global PV potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)
Figure 6: Global biomass potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)

Figure 7: Global geothermal potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)

Figure 8: Global Hydro potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)

Figure 9: Global wind potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)

Figure 15: Global total renewables potential (Source: DESERTEC Foundation)

Desertec Growing Pains

Desertec is  an idea originating from the Club of Rome and the first phase of this bold plan envisions generating green solar energy in one of the hottest deserts in the world, the Sahara in Northern Africa and then piping it through a Mediterranean super-grid to energy-hungry European countries. Although the Desertec mandate calls for the harnessed energy to be split equitably between Europe and MENA countries, as work begins on the super project, questions are being now being raised about just how equitable the power split will be.

German Watch, together with Bread for the World have visited the affected countries and produced the study ‘Desertec and Human Development at the Local Level in the MENA region – A human rights-based and sustainable livelihoods analysis “. The two authors Boris Schinke and Jens Klawitter sought to analyze the potential impact of the DESERTEC concept on living conditions, human rights and sustainable development of local populations of the African Mediterranean countries. The study a first proposal of social sustainability principles through which DESERTEC meet social development opportunities to uplift the communities where the power plants are installed.


The German environmental organization Germanwatch hosted a workshop in Room M 215 on the campus of the University of Tunis El Manar. Workshop organizer Boris Schinke has conducted interviews with 25 people living in the MENA countries that will be affected by Desertec with the objective of learning about their hopes and worries while assessing the plan’s concrete effects. “After the Arab Spring, we want to act upon the demands for social justice and codetermination and incorporate civil society,” Schinke says. “It is only in this way that Desertec can succeed.”

Questions posed in the workshop:

  • What developments/changes do you wish to see in your country/the MENA region?
  • How do you think the Desertec concept could fit into this vision?
    • What are your concerns with regards to Desertec?
    • What are your hopes with regards to Desertec?
  • Where could be challenges/opportunities to realize the Desertec concept in the MENA region?
  • Which issues should be addressed by Desertec at what levels (international, national, local) to make it a success?
  • Who would be willing to become part of a dialogue with civil society actors from both MENA region and EU?

Workshop Response

  • Many participants were distrustful and raised fundamental concerns and doubts  about Desertec, its intentions and its potential implications for North African countries
  • Different people pointed out, that there still exists a lack of transparency, information and participation of civil society members in the planning and development of  Desertec (“Tunisians have never heard of Desertec”, “The multinational corporations have all the information”)
  • North Africa has other important challenges to overcome, besides achieving energy security and fulfilling the right to energy (“The right to work, the right to education and alleviating poverty”)

Research Conclusion

  • low levels of civil society participation, information and transparency within the realization and communication of Desertec are still causing many question marks, concerns and doubts among civil society in the Southern Mediterranean
  • in view of the high involvement of corporate interests, relevant civil society actors of the North African countries are suspicious about the concept’s good intentions and promised implications. They are demanding their right to participate in the energy transition in their countries and do not want to be seen as just passive recipients of foreign technologies
  • they want their fair share and are claiming the transparent and equitable distribution of benefits to the best of society
  • in order to achieve the required social acceptance for any kind of foreign investments in energy infrastructure projects (small and large-scale) in North Africa, transparent information and a fair and comprehensive dialogue with North African civil society and beyond is of utmost importance
  • only through the active engagement of civil society actors it can be ensured that the voices of those directly affected are to be heard so that it will be first and foremost the people in the Southern riparian of the Mediterranean that benefit from the energy transition taking place in their region
  • all participants have agreed to be part of any future civil society dialogue on Desertec, thereby underlining the demand to establish an informal civil society network on the issue
  • the workshop at the World Social Forum in Tunis can be seen as a promising starting point
  • the process of building bridges between the civil societies in North Africa and the EU through both a South-South as well as a South-North exchange should be intensified (e.g. through a series of thematically focused workshops in different North African countries
  • it will be crucial for its success that any future dialogue among the regions does not intend to be a lobby platform for Desertec, but rather be a forum to discuss it from a neutral, still constructive perspective

Desertec suffers Major Setback

Siemens pulled out of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) in Oct 2012 and in 2013, the Desertec Foundation itself has pulled out. The  450 Billion Euro plan to build solar plants is now in limbo. Analysts were skeptical that it could fly due to two reasons:

  1. plummeting solar PV prices
  2. continuing political instability in the MENA region

The falling prices of solar PV means that Europe could generate solar electricity itself rather than importing – Germany is a case in point.  Desertecs main technology, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) has stagnated in pricing for the last 10 years while solar PV has continued to plummet due to active research and competition. Siemens cited these very reasons for pulling out of the project. The continuing instability in the Middle East is another major concern. Politicians do not want their governments to become dependent on the unstable region for yet another form of energy.

Does this spell the end of Desertec? The DII remains optimistic.