DESERTEC - Solar power from the desert

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  • Solarturmkraftwerk in Südspanien
    Solar tower power plant in southern Spain

    One square kilometre of desert is sufficient to supply about 100 000 households with 250 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Solar-thermal power plants, which use the concentrated rays of the sun to generate electricity, can make a big contribution to future energy generation. According to current studies, more than 15% of European electricity requirements could be produced from concentrating solar power systems in 2050.

The contribution of the German Aerospace Center

Cheap, safe and environmentally friendly electricity from concentrating solar power systems could meet about 15% of European power needs by 2050. This was confirmed by studies prepared by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on behalf of the German Federal Environment Ministry (Bundesumweltministerium).

With its survey of the availability of renewable energy sources for electricity production in the Europe/Middle East/North Africa region, EU-MENA for short, the DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics (Institut für Technische Thermodynamik) has supplied the scientific foundation for the DESERTEC project.

DESERTEC will use solar-thermal power plants in Earth's sun belt to generate climate-friendly electricity for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. On 13 July 2009, twelve leading technology and finance corporations smoothed the path for the realisation of the concept with the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative (DII). The framework conditions of the project are to be analysed in detail and developed in a three-year planning phase, so that its industrial implementation can be started at the end of that period. The DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics will provide scientific support for the DII.

DLR provides scientific basis for DESERTEC

The DESERTEC plans are based on three satellite-data supported DLR studies, which determined the renewable-energy possibilities for the sustainable production of electricity and drinking water in 50 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, taking account of the solar-thermal power plants option (concentrating solar power, CSP for short). The 'MED-CSP', 'AQUA-CSP' and 'TRANS-CSP' studies concluded that solar-thermal power plants could supply sufficient power and desalinated water to meet the growing demand of MENA countries as well as Europe, while using less than 0.3% of the MENA desert area. The MED-CSP study focuses on the sustainable supply of electricity in MENA countries while AQUA-CSP analyses the drinking water supply.

The DLR 'Trans-CSP' study

The DLR TRANS-CSP (Trans-Mediterranean Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power) study, published in 2006, describes the transition to a sustainable supply of electricity for Europe between 2000 and 2050. It provides a comprehensive database of current and future electricity needs, peak loads and necessary assured power plant output for the individual countries covered by the study, quantifies the domestic renewable energy possibilities and their usability for electricity production and analyses the effects of such scenarios on the environment and society.

The most important results of the Trans-CSP study, in summary:

  • Balance: a balanced mix of renewable energy sources and fossil-balancing energy can supply sustainably cheap and safe electrical power for Europe. The DLR scenario begins in 2000 with the 20% renewable energy share developed at the time (including hydro-electric power) in the countries of the study and in 2050 reaches a renewable share of the electricity supply of 80%. Here, domestic renewable sources provide almost 65%; a good 15% then comes from solar power imports from North Africa.
  • Cheap: the transition to a sustainable energy mix will lead to cheaper electricity supplies within 15 years than if the current trends are maintained.
  • Stable: imported electricity from solar-thermal power stations in MENA can supply assured power for base, medium and peak loads in the European network and thus ideally supplement the domestic renewable sources, which are largely fluctuating in character.
  • Long-term: imports could start between 2020 and 2025 with 60 billion kilowatt-hours per year and be expanded by 2050 to 700 billion kilowatt-hours per year. The high and very uniform insolation (solar radiation energy received on a given surface area in a given time) in MENA and the low losses of 10 to 15% through high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission lines allows for long-term imported electricity costs of about €0.05 per kilowatt hour (at constant 2000 prices).
  • Clean: carbon dioxide emissions in the electricity sector can be reduced to 25% of the year 2000 quantity by 2050.
  • Joint effort: MENA requires European help and technology to exploit renewable energy sources and to utilise the huge renewable energy potential of the region. The necessary political process must now be initiated in the form of an EU-MENA partnership and could start with a common free-trade zone for renewable energies. The establishment of the 'Union for the Mediterranean' on 13 July 2008 and the establishment of the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative on 13 July 2009 are important steps in this direction.


The DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics will provide scientific support for the DESERTEC initiative over the next three years. DLR scientists will update and improve the existing studies. Suitable locations for solar-thermal power plants will be identified with the help of satellite data having high temporal and spatial resolution, cost development scenarios, and technological developments with regard to solar-thermal power plant equipment.

The DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics has been working for 30 years on research into and development of solar-thermal power plants. With more than 80 scientists (spread across the Stuttgart, Cologne and Almería/Spain locations), the institute is one of the world’s leading research facilities in this field.

Last modified:
11/07/2011 17:41:14



Dipl.-Kff. Sabine Winterfeld
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)

Institut für Technische Thermodynamik, Öffentlichkeitsarbeit & Marketing

Tel.: +49 711 6862-513

Fax: +49 711 6862-712

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Tel.: +49 711 6862-480

Fax: +49 711 6862-636