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Stacey Vanek-Smith: Energy reform will be on the docket for a group of German companies meeting today in Munich. The firms want create what could be one of the world’s largest renewable energy projects in North Africa and the Middle East. Germany’s already a world leader in solar energy, and the companies want to make use of that expertise. Brett Neely reports.
Brett Neely: Germany has become a solar power, thanks to labs like the Helmholtz Center in Berlin.
Researcher Stefan Gall opens a large black box known as a sun simulator.
Stefan Gall: So you have a somehow an artificial sun above your sample . . .
Though German researchers lead the field, the country’s often-gloomy skies limit how much solar power can be produced here.
The Berlin-based Desertec Foundation thinks it has the answer: solar power plants in the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. The nonprofit says more than 15 percent of Europe’s energy needs could be met using existing technology. Power would be sent to Europe via underwater cables.
Desertec board member Max Schön says this isn’t just about clean and cheap electricity for Europe.
It’s also about helping the region develop.
Max Schön: This is a holistic concept — it’s not only secure energy, it’s not only climate change, it’s also about migration, it’s also about water, it’s also about poverty.
Schön says some of the electricity would power desalination plants in North Africa and the Middle East to make fresh water for the arid region. And he says the project would create well-paying jobs there, to stop the brain drain of skilled workers going north to Europe.
Today’s conference is hosted by the insurance company Munich Re, which is worried climate change will hurt its business. Other companies signing onto the cooperation agreement include German powerhouses like Deutsche Bank and Siemens.
Economist Claudia Kemfert says this is no short-term project:
Claudia Kemfert: It’s not a project for the next 15 or 20 years, it’s a project for 50 years, and that’s a major difference to many other projects.
Despite the plan’s grand scale, Kemfert says it’s technically and economically feasible.
Even with the eye-popping $500 billion price tag over the next 40 years.
Kemfert: And it’s not that large amount if we look at numbers for the financial crisis we are spending right now.
Desertec says the first solar facilities in North Africa could be operating within 10 years.
In Berlin, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.