By Christoph Steitz and Jens Hack
FRANKFURT/MUNICH (Reuters) - Desertec, which aims to bring power to Europe from huge solar and wind projects in Africa and the Middle East, should set up pilot schemes globally to prove the plan's feasibility faster, one of its shareholders said.
"Ideally, we would like to see 5-10 Desertec pilot projects worldwide," Thiemo Gropp, director of the Desertec Foundation, one of the shareholders of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), told Reuters on Tuesday.
While the entire Desertec scheme itself has been estimated at 400 billion euros ($512 billion) by 2050, Gropp said costs for these smaller pilot projects would be 10 billion-20 billion euros ($12.8-25.6 billion).
"You could move a lot if this would be realized, as concrete examples are the best means to convince," he added.
Desertec, founded three years ago, envisages Europe importing up to a fifth of its electricity from solar and wind parks in North Africa and the Middle East by 2050.
The project, based in Munich, aims to use mirrors to harness the sun's rays to produce steam and drive turbines to generate electricity in the Sahara region. It wants its plants to cover an area of 6,500 square miles and produce 1,064 terrawatt hours (TWh), almost enough energy to power Germany for two years.
However, since its establishment in 2009, Desertec has not started work on any concrete ventures due to complicated negotiations between many partners with conflicting interests.
The Desertec project has recently come under pressure after two of its shareholders, German engineering conglomerate Siemens and automotive supplier Bosch, said they would leave the consortium.
This, Gropp said, would not bring the project to a halt.
"In the end, the transformation depends on public pressure, not on a couple of industrial companies," Gropp said.
Other shareholders of the DII include German reinsurer Munich RE, utilities E.ON and RWE, as well as Deutsche Bank.
Derided by critics as being too costly and beset by political uncertainties, Desertec has struggled to attract investors and the Arab Spring cast further doubt over partners in northern Africa and the Middle East.
Earlier this month, DII said Spain was holding up its first concrete deal to feed solar power from northern Africa to Europe.
Gropp said further political support was crucial for the success of the project.
"We think things will move too slowly without any political support. More can be done," he said, adding that financial aid as well as government loans or feed-in tariffs could be used to achieve this. ($1 = 0.7811 euros)
(Editing by Anthony Barker)