BERLIN (Reuters) - A project linking solar power from the Sahara to energy users in Europe and North Africa could create 240,000 German jobs and generate 2 trillion euros ($2,822 billion) worth of power by 2050, a study published on Thursday found.
The report by Germany's Wuppertal Institute for Climate for Greenpeace and the Club of Rome also said more than 580,000 jobs in concentrated solar power (CSP) could be created worldwide by the middle of the century with the right political framework.
"Renewable energy could become Germany's leading industry in the 21st century," Greenpeace energy expert Andree Boehling told a news conference. "And concentrated solar power could become Germany's next export hit after photovoltaic and wind energy."
Germany has become a world leader in renewable energy technology in the last decade and some 214,000 people are employed in the sector. There are over 750,000 people working in the car sector, Germany's leading industry.
It would take CSP -- a technology that uses mirrors to harness the sun's rays to produce steam and drive turbines to produce electricity -- from the Sahara and deliver to markets locally and in Europe.
"Chancellor (Angela) Merkel has to make the desert power project a top priority," Boehling said. "She should push for it to become an important issue at the next G-8 meeting."
German reinsurer Munich Re announced two weeks ago it had invited firms including Deutsche Bank, Siemens and utilities E.ON and RWE to a July 13 meeting to agree on a joint project that could supply 15 percent of Europe's electricity.
Solar thermal is a well-tested technology, but it is still a more expensive source of electricity than fossil fuels. No details have emerged on government incentives to make the project viable, essential to draw private backers.
It is one of six Euro-Mediterranean Partnership projects being considered. The German government hopes 20 gigawatts of CSP -- equal to 20 large conventional power plants -- could be harvested each year by 2020 by Desertec. The green energy would be used in Europe and Mediterranean Union states producing it.
The Desertec Foundation has noted in six hours the world's deserts receive more energy than mankind consumes in a year.
"Thousands of solar energy plants in the desert could be producing limitless energy," said Max Schoen, chairman of the Club of Rome in Germany. "Within a generation the clean energy sector could have as many jobs here as the car industry."
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold)