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Future of solar

European scientists and engineers are developing an ambitious plan to build massive solar power stations along North Africa’s Mediterranean coastline capable of supplying 16% of Europe’s electricity and help it meet emissions targets.

The Desertec scheme

The £5bn scheme, ‘Desertec’, would see hundreds of generators, fed by thousands of energy concentrating mirrors, produce billions of watts of power which would be supplied by undersea cable to Europe. Sea water used to cool the generators would evaporate and be re-condensed as fresh water, which would be used for drinking and irrigation.

Aside from build cost, the project’s engineers must clear a number of major hurdles. The cost of energy produced by solar power is still high, meaning countries will almost always go for a cheaper – less sustainable – alternative. In addition, the countries which would host the power generating plants have a history of political instability.

Supporters believe that energy loses in the undersea cables will be containable, especially if the power is ‘shipped’ as high-voltage Direct Current. They also claim that improvements in technology over the next ten years will cut the cost of the power produced by Desertec, making it competitive with conventional energy sources.

In the ultimate vision of the project, thousands of linked plants would be constructed over a 30 year period, at a proposed cost of £200bn, which would meet not only most of Europe’s energy needs, but 60% of those for the Africa and the Middle East as well.

The European Parliament recently asked the schemes’ backers to propose short term demonstrations for evaluation.


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Engineering Policy Unit 

Our Engineering Policy Unit works closely with members to raise the profile of engineers and engineering potential, to generate discussion and provide thought leadership.

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