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Summary:

First Solar, the thin-film solar giant, has just linked up with the mega-giant of all solar projects: the Desertec Industrial Initiative. The Arizona-based company announced this morning that it has become an “associate partner” in the ambitious project, which by 2050 aims to supply 15 percent […]

First Solar, the thin-film solar giant, has just linked up with the mega-giant of all solar projects: the Desertec Industrial Initiative. The Arizona-based company announced this morning that it has become an “associate partner” in the ambitious project, which by 2050 aims to supply 15 percent of Europe’s electricity — plus a hefty chunk of the power consumed in Northern Africa and the Middle East — using solar and wind farms in the Sahara desert. First Solar describes itself as the first player focused purely on photovoltaics, or PV, to join Desertec.

In the associate partner role, First Solar will contribute expertise to working groups looking at utility-scale PV, while also helping to “prepare the ground for reference projects and a roll-out plan.” The company has signed on for “an initial period of three years.”

Founded in 2009 by a dozen companies, including Germany’s Siemens, Deutsche Bank, insurer Munich Re and utilities RWE and EON, Desertec is estimated to cost a staggering $555 billion. Some of the first major hurdles for implementing the project include developing the business plan (a process expected to take three years), securing financing and permitting.

First Solar has experience in working through these stages for large-scale solar projects. As the company notes, it has built “utility-scale solar power plants in desert conditions” in the U.S. as well as the United Arab Emirates, and it’s working toward development of a 2-gigawatt solar project in Inner Mongolia’s Ordos City.

First Solar may be just the first in a wave of new partners for Desertec. The initiative’s chief executive, Paul van Son, told Reuters last month that five companies hailing from France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia would be announced in March. “We want to make it more of an international project,” he explained.

“When you look at all the industries you need to have represented in a project like this — finance, insurance, engineering, solar manufacturing, utilities — we have them all,” Christoph Fark, managing director of Schott Solar CS, a founding partner in Desertec, told us last year. “And we have some of the best in each of those areas.” For a project of this scale, timeline, cost and complexity, they’ll need ‘em.

Graphic credit DESERTEC Foundation

  1. First Solar Jumps Aboard Desertec Jumbo Green Energy Project « Happywatts – Power to the people Wednesday, March 17, 2010
  2. Cleantech and renewable energy links | Politics in the Zeros Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    [...] First Solar joins Desertec Initiative, a gigantic solar and wind power project in the Sahara to power Africa and Europe. [...]

  3. Desertec officials must be aware that CdTe PV panels, proposed to be used in the project, are loaded with Cadmium–ferociously toxic, carcinogenic heavy metal–whose long term behavior and safe operation in large scale fields under desert sun exposure have not been properly tested nor decisively proven. Nor are there any attempts in that direction, that I’m aware of.

    Covering thousands of acres with cheap, potentially toxic, CdTe panels, without proving their safe operation in LARGE SCALE fields during 25-30 years of continuous operation in DESERT areas, is ignorance and greed combined into one act of utmost negligence, the outcome of which somebody eventually will be held responsible for. Who will that be?

    The US and world’s scientific communities must take a close look at the fragile CdTe/CdS thin films structure, the flimsy, frame-less panels design and their interaction with, and behavior under, the harsh desert elements for the duration BEFORE allowing millions of these panels without a relevant safety record to cover Earth’s surface.

    It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of this and any other mass produced product with such great impact on environment and life in general!

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