Already some time ago I came to the conclusion that there is no rescue from technology concerning the global climate change. Now two weeks ago some blue chip German companies came up with the idea to pool their resources with the aim of producing electricity based on solar power in the deserts of North Africa and transporting the clean electricity to Europe. If this becomes reality I may be forced to revise my earlier opinion. However, obstacles remain.

The project aims to build solar power plants in several locations in North Africa. The technique to be used is called „concentrating solar power“ or CSP. It uses banks of mirrors to focus the sun’s rays in a central column producing steam, which is then used to drive turbines which generate carbon-free electricity. The generated electricity would then be fed via high-voltage direct current transmission lines over thousands of kilometers to Europe. Traditional AC lines are far too inefficient.

What is now new about this project? Businesses seem to have recognized that large scale CSP could be a future playing field for them taking into account that the large scale capital investments connected with this technique could only be shouldered in a joint approach. This is all the more astonishing as the project comes up in times of economic crisis. Could one driver be that these blue chip German companies currently take a gloomy view of their traditional businesses? 

When thinking about it from the point of view of an engineer in technical terms the project could be realized. Some environmentalists criticize the fact that the project would perpetuate the current system of power generation and distribution which is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. However, I consider this a weak point with ideology resulting in wishful thinking. So far no one could prove that decentralizing the system and looking closer to home for electricity supplies, such as solar panels on homes or wind energy is the better solution.

Nevertheless, also from my side considerable doubts remain. First of all this is on the political side. Dealing with many different countries in the region of North Africa will be a major challenge. In particular as the interests of these countries for justifiable reasons may differ from those of multinational companies. The host countries must see a clear benefit for them.

On the financial side such a project must finance itself in the long-run and be competitive within a short time frame. The required vast expenses for the required grid infrastructure as well as the current cheapness of fossil fuels may be the main obstacles. Could these be overcome the technique of CSP may be a rescue from climate change if it is consequently applied on the large scale making use of the economies of scale. I am curious about whether this will become reality.