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Desertec reaches out to MENA shareholders

Solar projects executive wants to extend geographical reach.

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The Desertec initiative aims to harness the power of the sun in Northern Africa.
The Desertec initiative aims to harness the power of the sun in Northern Africa.

 Desertec, the world's most ambitious solar power project, is courting new shareholders in the Middle East and North Africa in an attempt to broaden its geographical reach, its chief executive told Reuters.

"There are a number of interested parties," Paul van Son, head of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), the project's executive arm, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

"We are in intensive talks with companies in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, which we are trying to win as new shareholders," he added, but declined to name any potential candidates.

DII, founded last year, is a product of the Desertec Foundation, a global network of governments, companies and think tanks that is exploring how to harness solar power in deserts.
The DII project is expected to cost 400 billion euros ($509 billion) and already has a range of corporate backers from the energy, technology and construction sectors as well as banks and a reinsurer.

Shareholders include ABB, Munich Re, Abengoa, Deutsche Bank, RWE, Enel, Saint-Gobain, E.ON, HSH Nordbank, Siemens and Red Electrica.

Its goal is to analyse how to develop clean energy in the deserts of North Africa that could supply up to 15 percent of Europe's power demand by 2050. Deserts get more energy in six hours than the world's population consumes in a year, the initiative said.

While proponents call the project visionary, skeptics have pointed to political risks in the North Africa region as well as problems such as how power would be transmitted to Europe.

The plan is to deliver energy harnessed from concentrated solar power (CSP) in the Sahara using technology that employs mirrors to reflect the sun's rays, producing steam and driving turbines that generate electricity.

Desertec expects initial efforts to deliver solar power in about five years, with the first solar power plant to be built in Morocco from 2013. Van Son said no specific investment plans had been worked out for the project.

"Still, I want to give you an assessment: We are planning plants in Morocco of up to 1 gigawatt in power production capacity. The investment volume of Masdar's Shams 1 project is $600 million -- and that's just 100 megawatts."

This would suggest an investment volume of up to $6 billion for the Morocco plant, but van Son said the project was still at an early stage and no investors had been taken on board.

Van Son said that photovoltaic (PV) technology -- which, unlike CSP, directly converts sun rays into energy through solar modules -- could play a major role in the Desertec project.

"There is a good chance that PV will become a component."

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