MUNICH, Germany, April 11 (UPI) -- The plan to produce renewable energy in North Africa to power the continent and export excess capacity to Europe is advancing, the companies involved say.
The advance comes despite unrest in the region, they add.
Representatives of the Desertec project, an industrial initiative that plans to build giant solar and wind power plants in North Africa, last week met with officials from the interim Tunisian government.
They "agreed on further steps to implement the Desertec vision in Tunisia," the industry initiative said in a statement released Monday. Desertec said it would open an office in Tunisia.
"Recent activities in Japan and North Africa have shown that strong ties between Europe and North Africa are more necessary than ever in order to achieve security and stability," the industry initiative's Chief Executive Officer Paul van Son said in a statement. "A close joint venture with the Tunisian government will play a decisive role towards the implementation of the Desertec vision."
Companies from Germany have dominated Desertec, an multibillion-dollar project, which hopes to supply North Africa and 15 percent of Europe's power by 2050 with a solar-power-dominated network of renewable energy sources.
The plants in Africa would be linked to Europe via an underwater high-voltage direct current grid that requires billions of dollars in investments.
The initiative's founding members include technology giant Siemens, Deutsche Bank, insurer Munich Re as well as utilities Eon and RWE. Other corporate partners include First Solar and several smaller firms from Europe and North Africa.
European energy experts have long advocated making the sunny African deserts Europe's power bank in order to reduce the continent's dependence on oil and gas imports from Russia and the Middle East. They say a welcome side-effect of the project is that it helps the host countries to technology and clean power.
While investors have always been deterred by the high up-front investment required, the companies involved in Desertec bank on cost-sharing and government aid.
The German government has already promised to support Desertec and created a task force to monitor the project. Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle has said he would try to make Desertec a European initiative.
"We are going to actively involve the main European political and industry players in order to expedite the joint development of an economical and long lasting energy generation in the desert regions," van Son said.