Desertec split as Foundation walks

German non-governmental organisation the Desertec Foundation (DF) has pulled out of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) – the private consortium aiming to build a vast network of solar power plants across North Africa.

DF, which has spearheaded the €400bn ($521m) Desertec development since 2009, said “many irresolvable disputes between the two entities in the area of future strategies, obligations and their communication, and last but not least the managerial style of Dii’s top management” led to its decision.

A statement said: “Desertec Foundation also wants to avoid being dragged into the maelstrom of negative publicity about the management crisis and disorientation of the industrial consortium.

“The dispute at the management level has already led to resentment among the partners of the Desertec Foundation and it negatively affects our reputation and trust. This is what the Desertec Foundation intends to avoid.”

DF director Thiemo Gropp added: “It was always clear to us that our idea of producing electricity from the deserts on this earth was never an easy task and will always face extreme challenges. The employees of Dii have contributed enormously to the global transition towards renewable energy. However, after many months filled with a lot of discussions we had to conclude that the Desertec Foundation needs to preserve its independence."

Gropp notes that its withdrawal from Dii “does not exclude future cooperation” between the two organisations.

The Desertec plan is backed by several large, mostly German companies such as E.ON, RWE and Deutsche Bank. It originally hoped to meet a fifth of Europe’s electricity needs with renewable power from North Africa and the Middle East by 2050.

But last week Dii toned down expectations of mass export from the North African plants to Europe.

Desertec has been buffeted by setbacks over the last nine months, including the dropping out of Siemens and Bosch as members, and delays in reaching a political agreement over its first "reference" project in Morocco.