The two main advocates of a European renewable energy revolution driven by a vast grid of desert solar power have split.
Both the Desertec Foundation and the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) say their plans to generate power from deserts across the world remains uncompromised despite the decision, which was made by the Foundation at an extraordinary board meeting last week.
Their partnership began in 2009 when they came together to promote a €400bn project that aimed to provide 15% of Europe’s power by 2050. But the relationship has since soured.
Thiemo Gropp, founder of the Desertec Foundation, said he had repeatedly raised concerns to Dii about the company’s corporate governance and strategic consultation.
He cited an article in which Dii CEO Paul van Son described Desertec’s original vision as "one-dimensional thinking" and appeared to announce a change in Dii’s strategy. Gropp said the Foundation had not been told about the change and was deeply concerned about the reputational damage Desertec may have suffered.
He said that despite the split, the Foundation was upbeat about other projects it was involved in Saudi Arabia and South America.
Dii head of communications Klaus Schmidtke said the company was disappointed with the Foundation’s decision, but that it would not affect Dii’s direction.
"We are not happy about the decision but we believe it does not effect our work here at Dii. And also it does not effect the realisation of desert power in the Middle East or North Africa," he said.
Schmidtke said that the move by Desertec came as a surprise, especially as Desertec’s founders and Dii’s CEO had been together at a function the day before the board meeting where the decision was made. He said the article on EurActiv.com had misrepresented Van Son and that this misunderstanding could have been worked out by discussion.
"From my point of view it is not enough to have seen a news article. It makes more sense to talk about it and not to make decisions on such a base," said Schmidtke.
He went on to say that Dii’s work on desert energy production for Europe would proceed unaffected because the relationship between the two bodies had never been intrinsic to Dii’s operations.
"In the past, the Foundation has had little impact on determining Dii’s objectives, our strategy or our activities," said Schmidtke.
Dii was an initiative formed between Desertec and a group of powerful corporate partners. They aimed to create a regulatory and political framework for the Desertec concept in the Middle East and north Africa. Shareholders included Deutsche Bank, UniCredit, HSH Nordbank and First Solar.
Their partnership contributed to the building of a 12 sq km solar farm at Ouarzazate in Morocco. Both groups have left the door open to working together in future.