Sunday, June 27, 2010

Desertec - Energy From the Sahara to Europe.

The European Energy commissioner has announced that the project Desertec will begin to provide electricity to Europe within 5 years, which is half the original estimate.The project is partly funded by the European Union and companies within Europe, to aid the EU in meeting its target of generating 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The Desertec scheme has been described as being part of an overall intention to create "a new carbon-free network linking Europe, the Middle East and North Africa".

Desertec is a project officially launched on the 13th of July 2009 by twelve European companies. It operates under the auspices of the Club of Rome and the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation. The project intends to install a network of concentrating solar power systems over an area of 6,500 square miles (17,000 km2) in the Sahara Desert, to produce electricity that would be transmitted to European and African countries by a super grid of high-voltage direct current cables. At a total cost of €400 billion, the scheme would provide continental Europe with 15% of its electricity, although the precise course of action and final costings will be presented in 2012.

The location is logical, since the Saharan desert is virtually uninhabited and is close to Europe, and being close to the equator is well provided for by sunlight. It is voiced by its protagonists that the project will keep Europe "at the forefront of the fight against climate change and help North African and European economies to grow within greenhouse gas emission limits"; however this are notes of criticism too. As usual, some opponents to the scheme point out that centralized solar energy plants and transmission lines could become a target of terrorist attacks, while others are of the opinion that generating so much of electricity consumed in Europe in Africa would create a geopolitical dependency on North African countries.

There are further issues over the demand that will be imposed on local freshwater supplies, in terms of cleaning and cooling turbines, which may impact on drinking water supplies for local villagers. Undoubtedly, unprecedented cooperation will be required between nations of the EU and Northern Africa which may delay the project through red tape, especially over the expropriation of assets, the granting of licenses and so forth. There are environmental issues too, in that the Earth’s deserts act to cool the planet by reflecting heat energy, and if they are instead covered with heat-absorbing installations there may be a contribution to global warming.

Related Reading.
(2) C.J.Rhodes, "Solar Energy: Principles and Possibilities," Science Progress, 2010, Vol. 93, 37-112.

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