We've covered Desertec's Sahara solar ambitions in this space before, so it is with some excitement that we note the announcement of the group's first major project, a 500-megawatt solar thermal plant to be built beginning next year in Morocco.
The specific site is yet to be announced, but the solar plant is meant to be just the first in a series of massive installations around North Africa and the Middle East. As the Guardian reported, the Desertec Industrial Initiative's chief executive Paul van Son called the Moroccan solar plant a "reference project," allowing investors and observers to see that the concept can work. There are still, of course, a number of questions surrounding an overall vision involving 470,000 MW of power, but the fact that Desertec seems poised to move from the abstract to the concrete is a welcome development.
And others are starting to notice the massive energy resource hitting the deserts of North Africa every day as well. Earlier this summer Nur Energie announced an agreement with Italian transmission network operator Terna that will send a high-voltage undersea cable across the Mediterranean from Tunisia. This sets the table for development of solar plants in the Tunisian desert; the agreement will allow up to 2,000 MW to be connected into the Italian grid. Elsewhere, Spectrum's Eliza Strickland reported last month on a Japanese-backed initiative called the Sahara Solar Breeder Project, where sand becomes silicon becomes solar panels and sends energy around the region and to Europe.
Of course, the Arab Spring upheaval in the region has called many energy-related issues into question, from oil access to renewables. But there are signs in some places that the result will be positive; Tunisia's transitional government said they will spend $2 billion renewable development, and according to some experts it seems that the progress toward reform across the region will at worst not stop renewable energy's progress, and at best will speed it along.
(Image of Moroccan desert via Joao Almeida)