Last summer, companies including ABB (NYSE:ABB), Siemens (NYSE:SI), and E.ON joined the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative, whose goal is to unlock the energy potential of the world's deserts.

One goal of the DII is to supply 15% of Europe's electricity needs by 2050, using renewable energy generated in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

In practice, this primarily means building massive concentrating solar thermal arrays in the Sahara, and piping the electricity across the Mediterranean to Europe via high-voltage direct current transmission lines. The project cost is pegged at around $600 billion.

We don't spend a lot of time dwelling on concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) technology, because most public solar companies, from SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWRA) and Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) to First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and Ascent Solar (NASDAQ:ASTI), deal in photovoltaics (PV) of one sort or another. Still, CSP plants are a popular choice when it comes to large-scale projects. That's all the more true now that molten salt has gained traction as a nighttime solar storage solution.

Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's planned carbon-neutral, zero-waste city, has planned on using PV to generate its electricity and CSP to provide its cooling. The emirate appears to be rethinking the practicality of desert CSP, however. Local newspaper The National has reported that "tests had shown that dust and haze reduced the technology's performance."

Such a performance hitch could perhaps send DESERTEC back to the drawing board. Or it could open the door for First Solar, Suntech Power (NYSE:STP), and other PV players that seek to take the utility-scale solar scene by storm.

ABB is a Global Gains pick. First Solar and Suntech Power are Rule Breakers recommendations. See if you take a shine to any of our newsletters with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.