First Solar Jumps Aboard Desertec Jumbo Green Energy Project

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

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