Desertec solar project builds international support

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The

, a €400 billion (Dh1.99 trillion) renewable energy project, has gained momentum this month with the addition of a new partners and a strategic adviser.

More companies are expected to join the project shortly.

Last week, the

became the first US firm and the first photovoltaics specialist to join the project to generate power from renewable sources in North Africa and the Middle East for export to Europe. The Arizona-based company said it would join Desertec as an "associate partner" that would offer technical expertise, instead of as a shareholder.

Desertec was launched last year by a group of mostly German companies and to date has focused mainly on concentrating  solar power. It has set a target of providing 15 per cent of Europe's electricity by 2050.

Earlier this month, Paul van Son, the CEO of Desertec, said five more companies, from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy, had agreed to join the consortium as shareholders.

On March 5, Desertec appointed Professor Klaus Toepfer, the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Climate, Earth System and Sustainability Sciences in Potsdam, Germany, as the project's strategic advisor. Dr Toepfer was previously the executive director of the UN's Environmental Programme in Nairobi.

The Desertec project is not without its critics, and could still face substantial political hurdles in Europe and North Africa. The appointment of an adviser with diplomatic credentials and the broadening of the group's membership internationally are therefore significant.

"The main challenge is the political framework. We need strong political support in Northern Africa, Europe and in the Middle East. In 2012 we want to present a politically approved concept of how this vision can become reality," Dr Bernd Utz, the chief technology officer of the renewable energy division of

recently told

.

Siemens is one of the founding partners of Desertec.

First Solar said it would supply utility-scale photovoltaic technology and expertise to the project.

"We believe that North Africa is ideal for renewable energy technologies," said Pia Lange, a spokeswoman for the company.

Desertec's critics have said the project is too costly, could undermine efforts to produce more renewable energy in Europe, and might be targeted by saboteurs. European human rights activists have raised concerns that the consortium may be eyeing sites in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

Mr Toepfer said he was appointed to assure that MENA-region states involved the project would benefit from it as much as European electricity consumers.

It is vital to guarantee that the countries in which electricity is produced from renewable energy also benefit in no small measure. This will be my role," he said.

Pic courtesy of Masdar