Munich Re, an insurance company, is leading efforts to garner support for a vast project, dubbed Desertec, to collect energy at solar farms in countries like Tunisia and then send it to Europe in the form of electricity. Munich Re wants other companies like the giant engineering group Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and utilities like RWE and E.ON to become involved.
Under the plan, energy would be gathered mostly using concentrating solar power, a technology that uses mirrors to harness rays from the sun to produce steam and drive turbines that make electricity. The power would then be delivered to Europe through high voltage direct current cables.
These cables are generally more expensive than alternating current cables, but far better at conserving power over long distances.
The project could turn out to be one of the largest clean power initiatives in the world, providing 15 percent of Europe’s energy needs. But some commentators questioned the wisdom of putting renewable energy hubs in a potentially unstable part of the world, while German media appeared divided on the virtues of the project.
According to Spiegel Online, Die Welt, a conservative daily, took a positive view, writing that power from desert solar plants would turn out to be cheaper than power from solar panels installed on German roofs. Handelsblatt, a business daily, was also favorable, writing that subsidies to the desert project “would, for once, make sense.”
But the left-leaning daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung warned that a new focus on building a solar hub in Africa could become an excuse for the government to ease back on support for domestic solar projects, which it said “would be a disaster.”
Solar advocates have increased their forecasts for the amount of electricity that could be supplied by a technology known as concentrating solar power, saying that C.S.P. may be able to deliver up to 7 percent electricity demand worldwide by 2030 and up to a quarter of those needs by mid-century.
A report was prepared in this respect by Greenpeace, an environmental group, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association, an industry group, and SolarPACES, an organization of national experts that works under the umbrella of the International Energy Agency.
Previous forecasts by those groups suggested that C.S.P. could supply up to 5 percent of electricity around the world by 2040.
Sven Teske, a renewable energy director with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, and a co-author of the study, said the groups chose to give a forecast for 2030, rather than another for 2040, because development had been much faster than predicted.
Mr. Teske said the main driver had been the uptake of C.S.P. in Spain, where a feed-in tariff was introduced in 2005.
C.S.P technology often uses hundreds of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to a temperature typically between 400 and 1,000 degrees centigrade to drive electricity-generating turbines. Criticisms of the technology include the high cost of building C.S.P. relative to many other energy technologies, as well as the problem of storing power accumulated during daylight hours so it can be released at night.
Companies active in the sector include Acciona, Abengoa, BrightSource Energy, eSolar and Stirling Energy Systems.
Under the forecasts made by the groups, the technology could displace 58 coal-fired power plants by 2020, and 1,286 coal-fired power plants by 2050. Under those scenarios, the technology would abate 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and 4.7 billion metric tons by 2050.