Massive Sahara solar project hit as industrial giants Siemens and Bosch quit

Leading industrial groups exit Desertec

Two of Germany’s leading industrial and technology firms, Siemens and Bosch, have pulled out of Desertec, the huge solar park project in the Sahara desert initiated by German re-insurance giant Munich Re.

Siemens’ exit is a result of last month’s announcement that it was in talks to sell its unprofitable photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal equipment businesses. Siemens has chosen instead to concentrate on technology for hydro- and wind power.

In Bosch’s case, its Rexroth electronics unit is pulling out to better cope with a severe downturn in its European business. Thousands of its employees have already been put on a four-day workweek. “Against the backdrop, we have to focus on other priorities,” a spokeswoman for Rexroth said.

Siemens would have supplied Desertec with PV tech, while Rexroth makes the equipment that positions the solar panels to the sun. A Desertec spokesman said that while the initiative regretted the firms’ exit, others were set to take their place at the end of the year.Desertec was launched in early 2009 with the aim of setting up massive solar parks in the Sahara to supply Europe with energy.

Beyond Munich Re, Desertec’s 21 shareholders include engineering firm ABB, energy giants RWE and Eon, as well as UniCredit, Deutsche Bank and HSH Nordbank.

Desertec is to be fully realised by 2050 at a cost of no less than €400bn. The spokesman said that the first step – the building of a 500MW plant in Morocco – had been taken. Yet even if the sum can be raised, other hurdles stand in the way.

Among them are ensuring delivery of the power to Europe through an often politically unstable northern Africa as well as getting European power companies to cooperate in the effort.

Desertec is the brainchild of Gerhard Knies, a physicist from Hamburg who is convinced of the project’s scientific logic. Knies notes that in six hours, the world’s deserts collect the same amount of energy that mankind consumes in one year.