Friday, July 17, 2009

Desertec Industrial Initiative

Monday found me in Munich with my fellow Board Members of the DESERTEC Foundation for the press conference of the ambitious launch of the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative (DII). The 12 founder European companies are HVDC makers ABB, the German insurer Munich Re, the energy groups E.ON and RWE, Deutsche Bank, HSH Nordbank, M+W Zander, MAN Solar Millenium, SCHOTT Solar, SIEMENS, ABENGOA Solar from Spain and the Cevital industrial group from Algeria. All the founder companies of the DII, whose regional focus is on Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA), signed a memorandum of understanding on the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative.

Sometimes an idea has it's time. For DESERTEC this seems to be it. Arising out of a decision between Munich Re and the DESERTEC Foundation a month ago to found the DII, these 12 companies eagerly stepped forward to join, with many more queueing behind to participate. In the whole of it's history, Munich Re has never hosted such an enormous press conference (housed in a glorious palace with underground tunnels connecting other buildings - so complex you need guides in pretty red uniforms to take you from one area to the next without getting lost. I'll wager they have to sit exams just to ensure they know where to go). As you can imagine such an auspicious event being organised by Germans, this was run with military efficiency. The line-up was stellar, with the various Chairmen of the founder companies speaking of their strong commitment to back the most ambitious project ever for renewable energy, plus a sprinkling of MENA embassy representatives, and bold support from German governmental ministers, including Matthais Machnig, Secretary of State to the German Federal Ministry of Environment. Other participants included key North African players such as Lalia Georgy, Chair for Technical Affairs NREA, Egypt and Jamia Matar, Head of Energy Department, League of Arab States. All were timetabled in to speak to the minute, and at the end of the session I glanced at my watch to discover that it had indeed concluded at the appointed time - to the minute. This is one of the reasons I so admire Germany; such efficiency gives great confidence that things will indeed come to be done as planned. Quite simply, this country gets things done.

It was exactly one year ago that President Sarkozy launched the Med Solar Plan under his Union for the Mediterranaean. Industry, always capable of moving fast, have now taken up the baton. These companies, and many more who have stepped forward are wanting to be at the forefront of what they perceive to be the building of the new world. The DII itself is based on New World principles of co-operation rather than competitiveness. By 31st October a planning entity in the form of an incorporated company will be in place for the DII. It will not be in istelf a profit-led organisation but rather one to ensure the advancement of the DESERTEC principles, to which all future shareholders will subscribe. All companies involved will of course benefit enormously in pursuing the commonly shared objectives. The vision is now to become reality.

The aim is to ensure by 2050 that solar power from the northern Sahara will meet at least 15 percent of European electricity needs and a significant proportion of local electricity demand in the countries of North Africa. The purpose of the newly founded initiative is to clarify the technological issues and create the neccessary political, socio-political and economic foundations and develop a vaible implementation plan within the next three years. The DII is expected to network closely with the scientific community, non-governmental organisations and governement organisations. The DESERTEC Foundation will play a central role in this respect.

What I witnessed in Munich was a collective endeavour to make things happen. Industry can always move faster than governments in this regard, and today demonstrated much promise. One of the biggest hurdles so far has been political will. That is now shifting as well.

But we are still living in a world of 'should' rather than 'must'. The difference between these two words is legislation, from business as usual with nobs on to a radical and rapid turn-around governed by international law. This industrial initiative is a clear indication that industry is now gearing up and ready for entering into the world of must. International legisation such as a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights would provide one such mechanism to accellarate DII into ever more rapid transformation. The Right Not To Be Polluted would effect enormous advancement to put in place a clean electricity framework worldwide in as little as 10 years. Such a right would place the burden on the other foot - it would be for energy companies to positively advance clean energy systems and the generation of dirty energy (note that 78% of excess GHG's are generated by fossil fuel) would be rendered illegal. Emergency legislation to ensure this effect could be passed overnight (every country in the world can use emergency legislation - Bush recently did so by pushing through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act 2008 in his 11th hour to bail out Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion).

It all just depends on whether you now think we have reached a state of emergency. The scientists do, much of the world does, now we have to persuade governments that it is so. What an irony it is that governments are the ones slowest to recognise this.

What we need now in Europe Middle East and North Africa is the equivalent of Al Gore's recent Climate Project - We Can Solve the Climate Crisis - petitioning from the people to push for the aim of repowering America with 100% clean electricity within 10 years. Over 2.3 million have already pledged their support. The same can be done here, so lets do it!

DESERTEC Industrial Initiative

Press: Renewable Energy World, Reuters

See here for excellent summary of international news coverage in English (best heading of the day: 'All the Worlds Saviours are Sitting in Munich Today!')


David McMullen said...

Polly -
I have been reading about Desertec on Gerry Wolfe's Google group for several months. This seems to be the best news so far. I feel well enthused and hope that this will at last lead to some public awareness in this country where the population and its parliament seem quite deaf to ideas on the subject. Hopefully 'the age of stupid' will wake some people up.

Greenfession said...

Hey, we just linked you up in our blogroll on - out blog where you can come confess your environmental sins, haha. we thought it would be a fun way to get people to talk about their efforts, and provide solutions. we're just trying to spread the word! thanks!