Table of Contents
Technological Background of the Desertec Concept
A Political Perspective on the Desertec Concept
Political Context of the Project in the MENA-Region
Human Rights and the Human Development Aspect
The Desertec Project in a Social Context
Water related challenges
Land-use and access to land for indigenous people
The right to non-discrimination: employment, technology transfer and capacity building
An environmental perspective; the use of Solar energy in the Desertec
Literature and References
In this paper, the limits and potentials of the cocreation partnership “The Desertec Foundation” will be discussed and analysed both from a neoliberal as well as a post- colonial perspective referring to scientific and political studies executed on the project. After an introduction outlining the key characteristics of the concept and a description of the key technology used to produce solar energy, we will closely examine the macro context of the concept to answer the concrete research questions listed below concerning the political, social, environmental and economic impact of the Desertec Concept.
The Desertec Concept aims at generating electricity in Northern Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The main goal is to supply humankind with electricity on a sustainable basis by using solar power plants, wind parks and the transmission of electricity to consumption centres, promoted by the non-profit DESERTEC Foundation. The produced electricity would be transmitted to European and African countries by a grid of high-voltage direct current cables and is expected to provide a considerable part of the electricity demand of the MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) and furthermore provide continental Europe with 15% of its electricity needs [Desertec 2012]
The Desertec network which is coordinated by the non-profit Desertec Foundation includes scientists, experts and politicians who developed the concept and then created an industrial initiative together with twelve companies from Europe and North Africa who announced their intention to found a joint venture to accelerate the implementation of the project. Currently it consists of more than 55 shareholders and associate partners from North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Among the main objectives of the joint venture are the development of a technological, economic, political and regulatory framework to enable investment in renewable energy and interconnected power grids in North Africa and the Middle East as well as the development of a long term implementation concept by the year 2050, including guidance on investment in sustainable development projects.
Many supporters say that the project will keep Europe "at the forefront of the fight against climate change and help North African and European economies to grow within greenhouse gas emission limits" and it is expected to create up to 240,000 German jobs as well as generate €2 trillion worth of electricity by 2050 [Reuters 2009][DLR 2012].
Since the Foundation brings together non-profit organizations, NGOs, companies and private investors, it is a valuable example of a so-called cocreation partnership which is expected to have great potential for creating an innovative business model that helps growing new markets or developing niche segments in grown markets (in this case, renewable energy in an established energy market) by combining profitability with sustainable development and the eradication of poverty. The close cooperation with the non-profit sector might help to renew companies´ social legitimacy while exploring and entering new emerging markets that might not be accessible without the expertise and the infrastructure/distribution networks of NGOs.
While this project has great potentials, we understand that there are certain limits and risks that should be examined more closely not only from a western, neoliberal perspective but also from a view that includes the subaltern public especially because most of the power plants will be installed in non-European countries. During the past couple of years, prominent geographers have tried to understand what lies behind the globalization talk and many scholars have agreed that we live in a neoliberal and/or post-colonial age. Global space is increasingly being manipulated by a globalized capitalism, inspired by neoliberal ideology, and it is important to be aware of the fact that neoliberalism's grip on global economic geography and global politics is not necessarily a given but can also be critically analysed (Majumdar 2012). In the case of the Desertec concept, it is interesting to examine the social, political and environmental impacts as well as the potential economic development caused by such an immense project from the view of the post-colonial discourse for it gives agency not only to western shareholders but also to the subaltern “other”. Considering the subaltern public, including the way how Western societies tend to represent and act upon non-Western societies brings up interesting aspects especially when it comes to such immense economic projects like Desertec that involve and connect people from many different countries.
With this in mind, this paper will closely examine the limits and potentials of the Desertec concept, considering social, environmental, political and economic impacts applying neoliberal and post-colonial theories on Corporate Social Responsibility and Cocreation Partnerships to the concrete issue areas of the project in order to achieve a well-rounded understanding of the sustainability of the project.
After outlining the technological key characteristics of the Desertec Concept, we are going to answer the following concrete questions:
- In political regards, what will be the advantages for the MENA-Region and the Middle East that come with the project? Is this just another “way of exploiting” resources to the benefit of Europe, or is it a win-win situation?
- How can be ensured that the implementation of the project profits the communities and societies it is located in?
- What are the challenges concerning government interaction and regulation of powerful corporations in the African countries? Who influences the creation of policy frameworks?
- Concerning environmental impacts, how sustainable is solar energy compared to other renewable energy sources?
Technological Background of the Desertec Concept
Desertec aims at building a large power network with very low electricity losses that allows the generation of clean electricity from renewable energy sources at the most advantageous locations. Since local circumstances in the EU-MENA countries vary, there are several types of technology used on different sites depending on the geographical characteristics as well as the wishes of the country concerned and the investors involved . The Foundation suggests to combine solar-thermal power plants with seawater desalination in desert regions near the coast in order to not only produce electricity but also drinking water. In desert locations inside the country, air-cooled solar-thermal power plants combined with water-saving cleaning robots are considered to be more useful. Furthermore, many coastal areas provide excellent locations for lucrative wind power plants, while photovoltaic systems are useful to cover peak mid- day demand (e.g. used for air-conditioning during the hottest hours of the day). To balance out the fluctuations of wind and photovoltaic power, Desertec suggests solar- thermal power plants as well as biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric and pumped storage plants to provide valuable, controllable electricity [Desertec 2012]. In order to carry the clean electricity created in the MENA region to the places in the world which consume large amounts of energy, Desertec suggests High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Transmission due to its relatively small line losses (around 3% per 1000km) and the little extra cost (0,01-0,02€ per kilowatt hour). This extra cost would be compensated by the extra efficiency of solar plants that are located in the desert as well as of the wind power plants that would benefit from constant and stronger winds at optimum geographical sites. To compensate for fluctuations in renewable energies and downtime in power plants and transmission lines, Desertec suggests an extended grid and connected backup power plants [Desertec 2012]. An in-depth study by the German Institut für Technische Thermodynamik confirmed the positive eco-efficiency of the transmission lines used for the Desertec project [MED-CSP 2005]. The key technology of Desertec is based around concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants because the provide ideal characteristics in order to utilize the solar potential of the world's desert. CSPs use mirrors to concentrate solar energy in order to heat water and produce steam which creates pressure that is use to drive a conventional steam turbine to generate electricity. Since heat (unlike electricity) can be stored in large quantities, CSPs can produce electricity day and night. Heat storage tanks can provide energy to the steam cycle during the night or whenever the energy demand is extra large. This way, fluctuations can be compensated and the grid can be stabilized. The MED-CSP study on Concentrating Solar Power for the Mediterranean Region which applied a set of criteria for sustainability came to the following results concerning the EU-MENA-countries: They stated that environmental, economic and social sustainability in the energy sector can only be achieved with renewable energies and underlined the fact that present measures are insufficient to achieve that goal. According to the study, a well balanced mix of renewable energy technologies could provide peak-, intermediate and base load electricity and thus prolong the global availability of fossil fuels for future generations in an environmentally compatible way. Firm capacity from CSP has a key role in such a mix as suggested by the Desertec Foundation. Since renewable energy resources are plentiful they can cope with the growing demand of the EU-MENA region, furthermore, they stated that the available resources are so vast that an additional supply of renewable energy to Central and Northern Europe is feasible. According to the study, renewable energies are the least cost option for energy and water security in EU-MENA and the key for socio-economic development as well as sustainable wealth in MENA, since they address both environmental and economical needs in a compatible way [MED-CSP 2005].
A Political Perspective on the Desertec Concept
In the majority of papers discussing the Desertec Vision of a joint energy partnership between the European Union (EU) and the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) to promote sustainable development in view, it is apparent that the issue has been primarily represented and analysed in terms of technical parameters and under the narrow application of economic cost-benefit-analysis. In order to capture potential socio-political impacts on the livelihoods of the people in the MENA-region that might come with such a significant transition, the kind of technocratic perspective that has been used so far is insufficient. In this section, the political context and the human development aspect of the project will be examined more closely to answer the following questions:
- In political regards, what will be the advantages for the MENA-Region that come with the project? Is this just another “way of exploiting” resources to the benefit of Europe, or is it a win-win situation?
The Desertec Foundation states that while we are currently “exploiting” gas and oil from countries of the MENA-region, solar energy is practically an unlimited resource that, once made accessible, has great potentials to contributing to the technological development of these countries [Desertec 2012]. It is projected that MENA will have the same energy and water needs like Europe in 2050 and therefore desperately needs renewable energy sources. These national requirements were the starting point to the studies “MED-CSP”, “TRANS-CSP” and AQUA-CSP” of the German Institut für Technische Thermodynamik, which serve as the scientific foundation for the concept. In concrete regards to the question of “exploitation” of the MENA-region, the Desertec Foundation states that, through the establishment of solar energy production, MENA would be able to cut down on the subsidized sale of fossil fuels and lucratively sell sustainable solar energy on the world market. Furthermore, Desertec takes into consideration that the consequences of climate change created in great part by European countries will hit the MENA-region first which is why it is only fair for Europe to support and introduction of renewable energy in the MENA-region. Technology-transfer and educational programs will be promoted and supported by the EU explicitly for the Mediterranean Region. Desertec also projects the creation of many career opportunities for engineers and jobs in the collector-construction in MENA. To counter-argue the presumption of exploitation, Desertec finally states that the countries producing the new solar energy will be the ones deciding whether they will use it themselves financing it through the profits that come from the export / saving of fossil fuels or sell the energy profitably to Europe while waiting for the technology to become more affordable. Since solar energy has such an enormous economic potential, both options might be possible at the same time as well [Desertec 2012].
Political Context of the Project in the MENA-Region
With the recent revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as well as the political and economic uncertainty in states like Syria, the MENA-region is currently experiencing lots of significant transitions in the political foundations that constitute the regulatory frameworks in which the Desertec concept will be established. Despite the present political uncertainty, different sources indicate that “people in the Arab world are filled with new aspirations and hope” [Klawitter, Schinke 2011]. In many countries, unsustainable and socially challenging oil production has led to social riots that sometimes even turned into civil war or regime-led violence (for example in Syria, Libya, Bahrain or Yemen).
- Quote paper
- Laura Nordmann (Author)Kaja Rosholt (Author), 2012, CSR and Cocreation Partnerships working towards sustainable development – what are the limits and potentials of the Desertec Concept?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/206911