Desertec pulls out of consortium it founded

Uncertainty shrouds the future of the Desertec project to generate energy from the world’s deserts after the foundation which developed the idea announced it had withdrawn from the scheme.

The Desertec Foundation was founded in January 2009 with the idea of generating solar and wind energy from the world’s deserts. The founding principle of the foundation is to use high voltage DC current – which loses only 3% every 1,000km it travels – to bring power to the 90% of the global population living within 3,000km of deserts.

In October 2009, the Dii GmbH consortium was founded in Munich to bring the concept to life using the deserts of the Middle East and north Africa, with the aim of supplying up to 15% of Europe’s energy from renewables by 2050.

But in an extraordinary press release, the Desertec Foundation has announced its withdrawal from the consortium, citing ‘irresolvable disputes’ with its partners over strategy, obligations, communications and ‘last but not least, the managerial style of Dii’s top management.’

‘Management crisis’

The press statement continues: "DESERTEC Foundation also wants to avoid being dragged into the maelstrom of negative publicity about the management crisis and disorientation of the industrial consortium. The dispute at the management level has already led to resentment among the partners of the DESERTEC Foundation and it negatively affects our reputation and trust."

Although the press release indicates the decision does not preclude future co-operation, it adds that the Desertec Foundation is sole owner of the brand DESERTEC and guardian of the concept, indicating the foundation may seek to block its industrial partners from continuing the project.

German companies dominate the Dii consortium with banks Deutsche Bank and HSH Nordbank and utilities E.ON and RWE among the founder members alongside insurance company Munich Re, engineer M+W Zander and solar PV and CSP specialist SCHOTT Solar.

German engineering giant Siemens was a founder member of Dii but withdrew in December 2012 and fellow German founder and solar thermal developer MAN Solar Millennium filed for bankruptcy in December 2011. PV elevation and tracker systems company Bosch Rexroth followed Siemens’ exit in November 2012.

Swiss engineer ABB, which bought Calfornia inverter company Power-One for around US$1 billion in April, is a founder along with Spanish firm ABENGOA Solar and Algerian food products company Cevital. Cable and wire system producer Leoni and U.S. thin film manufacturer First Solar signed up in July 2012 and March 2013, respectively.

The TuNur solar tower CSP project in Tunisia, which has been described as the Desertec pilot project, was planned to generate up to 2 GW of renewable energy in the stretch of the Sahara in the south west of the north African country. But the political upheavals and lack of legislation required to export energy to Europe have put the project on ice.