Have you ever heard of the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative? If not, you are not alone. This private sector industrial consortium, assembled to generate a considerable portion of EU, Middle Eastern and North African (EUMENA) energy requirements, could become one of the largest industrial projects in history at over $500 billion in capital investment.
Desertec stands for the vision of a sustainable energy supply from the worlds deserts. Dii is a private industrial consortium focused on enabling this vision in the EUMENA area. This German Industrial led project has taken the work of the DESERTEC Foundation and initiated a comprehensive feasibility study to build concentrated solar power (and PV) in North Africa and the HVDC supergrid to pipe it to Europe – for a profit.
The work undertaken by the Foundation is demonstrating the feasibility of creating a Europe wide energy mix comprised 90% from renewable sources by 2050. The concept of an EUMENA super grid blending together the peaks and troughs of a diverse and largely renewable energy mix across Europe, the Middle East and Africa is provocative. Considering the weight of German industrial and financial leaders driving the initiative, the virtual information void in the UK is either curious or incredible.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the “couldn’t predict this would happen” Fukushima nuclear meltdown by beginning the process of shutting down the nations entire nuclear energy portfolio – a goal which is to be complete by 2022. Various proponents of “new, safe nuclear” howled that such a move would seriously jeopardize the efficiency of the grid (thanks to intermittency issues related to single source renewable energy) and compromise the ability of the nation to meet rising energy demands. Renewables are more expensive and unreliable, right?
Yet, in a strange twist of fate, an earthquake off the Japanese coast may prove to be the final blow to the nuclear renaissance – not because of safety (no matter how legitimate the argument on that front), but rather because it is beginning to appear that nuclear isn’t needed, and far too expensive even if it necessary.
The real earthquake on the continent is a small installation revolution in Germany that is rattling energy policy conventional wisdom – the Germans installed 7.2 GW of solar PV in 2011 – the equivalent of 1 nuclear power plant (assuming a conservative load factor). It’s cheaper, considerably less risky (no matter what anyone says), and infinitely more popular with citizens.
But the sun only shines during the day, so how can this be a reliable solution, or so says the “anti-renewable making too much money already” crowd? Surprise … turns out that the reliability of the German grid is improving as renewable generation grows.
Running out of excuses, and political allies, smokestack and nuclear power advocates last best strategy appears to be to confuse the issue. When exactly was the last time there was a real energy debate in the UK?
This top-down (DESERTEC Industrial Initiative) and bottom-up (Feed-in-Tariff driven small installation) renewable strategy emanating from a single country seems to many informed insiders to be particularly prescient and indicative of bold leadership and a certain level of political courage. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention, and without any major energy supplies of their own to rely upon, and therefore vested interests to manipulate the debate, Germany has demonstrated a willingness to truly think outside of the box.
The problem for the UK government on this rather important issue is that they are heading in the other (wrong) direction. Rather than acknowledge inspired leadership by the Germans, whose own Feed-in-Tariffs amazingly were introduced in 1991 (a policy framework that gets full credit for the birth of a major driver in the German economy at 340,000 jobs), the Tory-led Coalition seems determined to destroy the similarly inspired Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) regime introduced by Labour in the last Parliament.
That the leader of the opposition deserves much credit for the UK FIT policy, which for a time launched a renewable renaissance in the UK, clearly has nothing to do with it.
Surely the Government cannot be driven by such craven motivations as to kill off the seminal piece of legislation from DECC under the helm of Ed Miliband, to score political points? Or, perhaps the Government has an excellent reason to kill renewables in the UK, in spite of the incredibly obvious example of the top down – bottom up approach pursued with incredible results by the Germans?
The real take away from the example of Germany is that whether it is a top down or bottom up approach, an industrial and energy policy which focuses almost entirely on renewable energy is a viable and proven winner – in terms of jobs, wealth creation, and sustainable and reliable production of national energy requirements. This issue is a slam dunk for Labour – we should be “all in” and putting the government to the question. They have a lot to answer for.
Mike Klein is Chief Strategy Officer, Totempower Energy Systems Ltd, www.totempower.com