ABB participates in Desertec industry initiative

Inaugural meeting of Desertec industrial initiative brings carbon-neutral power supplies a step closer

The idea of generating clean electricity in the world’s deserts is making progress: European companies, including ABB, met in Munich on July 13th to sign a memorandum of understanding on the Desertec industry initiative.

"ABB has been a collaborator on the Desertec project for many years,” said Peter Smits, regional manager of ABB in central Europe. “We believe our technologies and expertise will contribute to the continued success of this pioneering project."

Viable investment plans will be developed over the next three years and there are considerable business opportunities. ABB can make a significant contribution, particularly in terms of the technical expertise required to incorporate renewable power into the grid and transmit power efficiently over long distances.

By 2050, solar power from the northern Sahara could meet about 15 percent of European electricity needs and a significant proportion of local electricity demand in the countries of North Africa. The aim of the newly founded initiative is to analyze the technical, economic, political, social and environmental framework for the project.

"The technologies for a project like Desertec are tried and tested. HVDC (high-voltage direct current) – a key technology for the long-distance transmission of electricity - was invented by ABB 50 years ago and has been evolving ever since. It is used to connect grids, incorporate renewable energy and increase energy efficiency. So ABB makes not only Desertec, but also climate change, possible. “said Smits. "Desertec is a visionary project that brings the prospect of carbon-neutral power supplies in Europe a step closer, but it will probably still take some time before the first desert electricity starts to flow into Europe. In the meantime, today's energy needs must be met by a broad mix of generation, including, for example, coal-fired plants."

The idea of Desertec was originally proposed by ABB in the 1990s: harnessing solar power from deserts to deliver emission-free electricity to Europe. In 1992, ABB’s development manager for HVDC technology, Gunnar Asplund, drew up a map detailing how renewable energy could be harnessed to meet the needs of power-hungry populations. His scheme included wind farms, hydro- and geothermal plants, and a series of solar plants across North Africa, connected to Europe by high-efficiency HVDC power links. It is now the central theme of the Desertec project.

Gunnar Asplund's map showing ABB's vision of renewable power

ABB is a global leader in the fields of HVDC and renewable power generation, helping power industry worldwide to address the environmental and energy challenges with advanced technology and system.

In transmission sector, ABB has led the development of HVDC, an efficient and environmentally friendly power technology which enables the transmission of large capacity over long distance at low loss. The company’s HVDC technology has been deployed in a number of power grid construction projects in Europe, including SuperSmartGrid. The project incorporates the offshore wind power generated in the North Sea and the Atlantic to European power grids and improves the interconnectability of European power grids to increase flexibility and reliability. In China, ABB constructed three HVDC links that transmit electricity from the Three Gorges hydropower station to power-hungry regions in East and South China. The HVDC power links save a tremendous amount of energy, corresponding to the total consumption needs of 500,000 households.

On renewable energy generation side, ABB is also a pioneer and industry leader boasting comprehensive technology and solutions on solar, wind and hydro power. Since 1990s, ABB has actively participated in a number of solar power projects worldwide, including the Extresol and Andasol thermo-solar power plants in Spain, each with a capacity of 2X50-MW, and the pioneering 175-MW Hassi R’Mel integrated solar combined cycle power plant in Algeria. In 2008, ABB delivered the Totana photovoltaic plant in Spain, which was equipped with innovative solar trackers and patented optimization technologies to maximize the plant’s performance. ABB is also the leading supplier of electrical components, systems and services for the wind power industry and has contributed to the construction of a number of wind power projects in China, including China’s first offshore wind farm, the Donghai Bridge Offshore Wind Farm Project in Shanghai.

Alongside ABB, other members of the initiative include, for example, the German insurer Munich Re, the energy groups E.ON and RWE, Deutsche Bank, and Schott Solar. Foreign companies such as Abengoa Solar from Spain and the Cevital industrial group from Algeria will also participate in the initiative.

ABB ( is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 120,000 people. ABB has a full range of business activities in China, including R&D, manufacturing, sales and services, with 15,000 employees, 27 joint ventures and wholly owned companies, and an extensive sales and service network across 60 cities.

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