DESERTEC – European Strategic Aspects

Term Paper, 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Three Problems

2. Strategies and Concepts
2.1 European Energy Strategy

3. Evaluation and Reflections

3.1 Evaluation
3.2 Reflections


1. Three Problems

Dealing with the origins of and reasons for the development of political strategies one should not miss the opportunity to analyze the strategic dimension of the DESERTEC project from the European perspective. Both the worldwide discussion on energy supply and climate change as well as the urgent need for regional diplomatic and social stability builds the fundament for DESERTEC which is a project realizing the installation of solar power plants in the deserts of Middle East and Northern Africa and the export of produced energy as element of the European electricity supply.

By implementing that project Europe would be able to affect three strategic problems simultaneously: The dependency on the fossil resources oil and gas and the countries supplying them, problems concerning the handling of climate changes as well as the strengthening of partnerships with states of the Middle East and Northern Africa and by that promoting regional stability.

The European Union is in need of diversification of its energy supply portfolio in order to be prepared to fulfill international climate protection agreements and reduce the dependencies from Russian gas and Arabian Oil. Weak partnerships with the Middle East and Northern Africa but also problems concerning economic and social stability within these countries bear potential to endanger the European Union by threads like terrorism or especially refugee movements evolving out of these countries.

The analyze of DESERTEC within this strategic context will be based on the document ‘Clean Power from Deserts - White Book’ (DESERTEC Foundation, 2009) and ‘GREEN PAPER - A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy’ (European Union, 2006).

The DESERTEC Foundation was set up by the German division of the Club of Rome in cooperation with the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation Network (TREC) and the German Aerospace Center (DESERTEC Foundation, 2009).

After introducing the strategic position of the EU concerning energy policy and describing the argumentation and plans of the DESERTEC Foundation there will be a critical evaluation applied by referring to established theories where reasonable and clarifying. Finally the critical evaluation will be the basis for a reflection on the question if the DESERTEC project is an adequate mechanism to solve the introduced problems.

2. Strategies and Concepts

2.1. European Energy Strategy

The European Union published its strategic position on energy supply within the Green Paper from 2006 (European Union, 2006). Sustainability, competitiveness and security are outlined as the three core elements of the envisioned developments. As the economic dimension is not an element of this paper the details on the competitive strategic element will not be displayed.

The core reasons for the EU’s concerns on energy questions is the conviction that energy supply, prices and external effects of power generation as climate influences are essential for the European citizen’s living conditions.

Dependencies on external energy suppliers are realized as highly problematic. Without alternative sources there will be about 70% of the European energy needs satisfied by third countries within the next two or three decades. Some of these states suffer from instability. Already today half of the EU’s gas consumption is supplied by Algeria, Norway and Russia (most important supplier). As a direct measure for affecting those problems new formal energy partnerships - especially with Russia - have been set on the agenda. The situation concerning gas in general is evaluated as critical and bears the risk of sudden shortages as they have been experienced occasionally during the last years. Whilst extending gas and oil stocks is supposed as a small step to minimize that risk the general diversification of the energy portfolio is pointed out as a suitable measure. Wind, biomass, biofuel and also hydrogen, fuel cells, carbon capture or concentrated solar power are mentioned elements to design the turnaround from one-sided fossil dependencies to a broad portfolio of power generation. Further there shall be new gas and oil pipelines installed connecting Europe with Middle Eastern and Northern African states (European Union, 2006).

By that diversification the EU also tries to hit two further necessities besides the reduction of dependencies on certain countries: A strategic technological leadership concerning alternative energy sources as well as an effective measure against climate change. Climate change is referred to as real thread endangering the member states of the EU in a serious manner. Because of that, sustainability and efficiency in energy production and use are established as necessary targets. The EU also underlines the meaning of a necessary technological development which could lead into a global guidance position concerning energy solutions. To track and evaluate the progress in technological development and practical employment of alternative energy the introduction of a regular Strategic EU Energy Review is projected (European Union, 2006).

That instrument of self organization and control would enable the EU to integrate energy issues as element of foreign relations. The Green Paper mentions a dependency of the world’s economic regions concerning the support and sustainability of energy in close ties with economic stability. Because of that situation, worldwide partnerships as well as a pan European energy community shall be realized. Concrete elements should be continual dialogue with the world’s most important energy consumers such as China, India or USA and also intensified relations with the Caspian region, Northern Africa and the Middle East by establishing new pipelines in order to diversify fossil energy supply. The meaning of envisaging interconnections of energy systems with the African continent is pointed out especially. Also European support for establishment of energy infrastructures in third countries is mentioned within this context. Further the Green Paper recommends influencing third states in order to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels as adequate measure to ensure the European demand for those goods. Ultimately energy is identified as key promoter for progress in less developed countries what shall be part of the EU’s considerations (European Union, 2006). In order to realize the targeted goals and promote their implementation there are market dynamics as well as governance intervention by the EU in terms of investments and subsidies in case of market failure required (European Union, 2006).

Summarizing the displayed fundament for the EU strategy on energy supply one realizes that besides the protection of the access to fossil energy sources also the extended use of renewable energies and development of necessary technical competences shall be applied to achieve sustainability and security of supply. There is a close connection implied between technical measures concerning energy supply and the intensification of foreign relations with the neighboring countries by establishing energy partnerships.


Since the DESERTEC foundation does not provide an official strategy for its activities, the White Paper which was originally published in November 2007 and is the only official and detailed source on the project, will be the basis for analyzing the organization’s argumentation.

The paper is titled as a concept for energy, water and climate security. There are two main arguments for the implementation of DESERTEC introducing the paper: The recognition of climate change as a real thread and the need to decelerate it as well as the general perspectives for global energy and water availability.

Climate is defined as a key natural resource framing the conditions for energy supply by the sun, water supply from the skies and food produced by plants. The recent changes on world climate are taken for granted referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Also anthropogenic influences are taken for granted as the reasons for those changes. In consequence of that there is global coordination of human behavior affecting climate change requested by predicting that the foreseeable changes of world climate will have socio economic consequences of significant dimension. As long term solution for affecting those anthropogenic climate influences the establishment of solar energy supply on a global level is suggested. The DESERTEC foundation aims to establish within a first pilot project solar power plants in the deserts of the Northern African (NA) and Middle Eastern (ME) territories which shall transfer energy to the EU through high voltage cable connections and by that supply about 15% percent of the European energy mix until the year 2050. In general the concept contains a perspective for sustainable water and electricity generation for 50 countries of the EUMENA region. That plan also refers to the foundation’s view on global development of energy and water demand and availability as well as the expected growth of population focusing the EUMENA region. The foundation expects rising fresh water scarcity for both the Southern European and the MENA states. In consequence of that, agricultural food production will be affected and the states will suffer from higher dependencies on nutrition imports. Parts of the energy generated by the concentrated solar power (CSP) plants which shall be installed in the MENA deserts should deliver enough energy to introduce salt water desalination programmes in order to compensate the fading sweet water reserves. Parallel to increasing fresh water scarcity there is an increase in electricity demand and population expected. Whilst the European inhabitant number will stabilize around 600 million the population of MENA will double to the same number until 2050. Global electricity demand is expected to triple within the same time frame (DESERTEC Foundation, 2009).

A necessary measure to deal with these challenges is the diversification of the energy generation portfolio. Within this context the foundation remembers the Ukraine gas crisis as example for current risks of non diversification for the European energy supply. As the solar power hitting 1% of the earth’s deserts surface would be sufficient to satisfy the whole world’s annual energy demand, the foundation recommends the implementation of the DESERTEC concept as adequate measure to both diversify the power generation portfolio and also provide new solutions for regional expanding energy demand within the EUMENA region. The parallels to the European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy with regards to diversification and security of European energy supply are explicitly pointed out within the paper. Additionally it is mentioned that in the long run the establishment of solar power generation could reduce the use and proliferation of nuclear power and by that affect security strategy issues (DESERTEC Foundation, 2009).

Concluding the argumentation of the DESERTEC foundation one recognizes not a clearly focused strategic approach but a holistic plan to affect both the problems caused by questions on the world climate and energy supply as well as regional scarcities endangering socio-economic correlations and stability. The foundation states that a general change in power generation is of crucial necessity in order to be able to balance the world climate within a manageable range of variations. It is criticized that solar power has not yet gained the popularity which would be adequate with respect to its potentials.

Currently there is a consortium of twelve European companies - predominantly German ones - beginning to realize the project with an investment volume of 400 billion Euros (Baron, 2009).

3. Evaluation and Reflection

Before evaluating both the strategic suggestions of the European Union’s Green Paper and the argumentation of the White Book by the DESERTEC foundation the displayed argumentation needs to be analyzed for relevance and obvious correlations or disparities. That selection is being applied with respect to the introduced problems from the European perspective and in how far DESERTEC bears strategic potential to solve them. A pre-selection has taken place by not discussing the economic factors of the EU’s strategy and the planning of DESERTEC in detail.

It does not seem to be reasonable trying to reduce the European strategy on energy issues to the most relevant points within this context since it is originally set up to deal with exactly those problems motivating this paper. However it should be underlined that the aspect of building energy infrastructure in neighboring and potential energy-partnership states is mentioned rather vague and should be discussed more detailed in the following. It can be stated that all listed thoughts of the European energy strategy find according elements within the DESERTEC project.

The White Book of the DESERTEC foundation offers rather less illustration of the intra European perspective whilst it focuses in detail the possibilities to stabilize the countries of the MENA region. This is of high relevance to deal with the problem of regional stability and supply security. However the details of implementation within Europe’s neighbouring countries and potential energy partners like desalination and similar measures should not be of too high interest for analyzing the European strategic advantages of DESERTEC.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


DESERTEC – European Strategic Aspects
Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen  (Global Governance)
Politics, Polity and Policy
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ISBN (Book)
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desertec, european, strategic, aspects
Quote paper
Philipp Brix (Author), 2009, DESERTEC – European Strategic Aspects, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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