If you read SEWOTHA (which I highly recommend you to do; and read the book, not just the blog, which has gone a bit quiet recently) you’ll discover the idea that the only really viable way of getting *all* our energy needs in a sustainable way is from solar power plants in the hot deserts – in the case of Yorp, North Africa / Sahara; in the case of the Americas, the hot dry bit in the middle whatever it is called (they are due to the Hadley circulation, so pretty well everyone has one not too far away).

Anyway, someone else has now noticed the idea and Science has a piece on it, mostly paywalled. Sounds good to me – what is the point in putting solar cells in wet cloudy northern latitudes when the same cells will work so much better further south? Oh, the transport and political problems. Well, we’ll get round them somehow. Or maybe we’ll just move there. Who wants to live in Cambridge anyway?

Desertec, one of the world’s most ambitious multinational efforts to scale up renewable energy, aims to build solar and other renewable power projects across North Africa and the Middle East capable of producing 500 gigawatts of electricity and so meet 15% of Europe’s energy needs by 2050. Planners predict it will cost {euro}400 billion or more to cover tens of thousands of square kilometers of desert with solar collectors and wind turbines, connected by thousands of kilometers of power cables. The project–which backers compare to the Apollo space program–has yet to generate a single kilowatt. But it has attracted an impressive roster of political and industrial supporters in Europe and North Africa. Still, analysts say Desertec faces an array of daunting challenges, from finding ready cash to overcoming thorny political and security issues.

Desertec have a website, of course, and a Q+A section that (naturally) I haven’t read.

Refs:

* Sustainable Energy – without the hot air?

Comments

  1. #1 Left_Wing_Fox
    2010/08/31

    It always confused me that PE solar panels were so rare in the Palm Springs region of California. Even if they don’t provide complete replacement for power needs, it strikes me that they would most effectively offset the Air conditioning necessary to live in the region.

    It’s not as if there’s much else on te roofs preventing their implementations.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    2010/08/31

    in the case of the Americas, the hot dry bit in the middle whatever it is called

    The desert southwest, generally. West Texas, quite a bit of New Mexico, most of Arizona, eastern California, most of Nevada, and a lot of Utah.

    (they are due to the Hadley circulation, so pretty well everyone has one not too far away).

    FSVO “not too far away.” Due to moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the jet stream, the 35 degree line (plus or minus) stops being reliably dry well before you get to the Mississippi river valley. As a result, the highest population density parts of North America (the east coast) is at least a couple thousand kilometers from the nearest desert region.

  3. #3 NuclearWarfare
    2010/08/31

    “Ultimately, Knies believes, Desertec could help reduce political tensions. Through cooperation, the countries of the southern Mediterranean could learn to build and run cutting-edge power plants, boosting local employment…”Where,” he asks, “are the losers?””

    Seems to be a bit of an optimist, doesn’t he. The political situation between North Africa and Europe is nothing if not complex, and I fear that this project, while not a bad idea by any means and certainly something the human race needs to go ahead with, will be a lot more difficult than he imagines.

    [Err yes. I think there would be quite a lot of politics to be solved to make this work -W]

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    2010/08/31

    “Where,” he asks, “are the losers?””

    Who exports oil?
    Who ships oil?

    Downstream: whose energy supply is now controlled by another power without serious competition (since they have the other end of the pipe and electricity can’t be shipped in tankers.)

  5. #5 Tim Worstall
    2010/09/01

    There’s something which amuses me greatly here. Bjorn Lomborg is, of course, one of the great hate figures for a certain type of AGW proponent.

    The Guardian has pages on his next book, in which all he really does is retread the arguments from his first book (invest in technology, the carbon tax should be at the Nordhaus, not the Stern, level).

    And the Desertec stuff is hailed (quite rightly to my mind) as one of the good solutions and yet it was Lomborg, that great bete noir, who said:

    “even with our relatively ineffective solar cells, a square area in the tropics 291 miles on each side- 0.15% of the Earth’s land mass- could supply all our current energy requirements. In principle this area could be placed in hte Sahara Desert (or which it would take up 2.6%) or at sea.”

    What I’m not getting is quite why Lomborg is such a bete noir when everyone seems to be agreeing, a decade later, with what he actually said.

    [Come on Tim, you can do better than that :-(. Just because I agree with one thing he said doesn’t mean I agree with the rest. Though I see that in 2007 I didn’t particularly disagre with him. On climate, I think that the SE was basically not very interesting: it always erred on the sunny side (I say this somewhere but can’t find where) to an unreasonable degree, but didn’t make (any?) gross errors -W]

  6. #6 adelady
    2010/09/01

    It’s fairly easy to agree with isolated statements. It’s another thing entirely to agree with or adopt his overview or his stated priorities for action / inaction. (For ‘priorities’ read false choices.)

  7. #7 silburnl
    2010/09/01

    whose energy supply is now controlled by another power without serious competition (since they have the other end of the pipe and electricity can’t be shipped in tankers.)

    That dependency cuts both ways though. If the people at the ‘user end’ of the HVDC line decide they don’t want to buy the solar electricity any more, who will the people at the ‘producer end’ of the line sell it to?

    That’s a serious concern if you’ve got several decades worth of bond repayments to make.

    Regards
    Luke

  8. #8 Tim Worstall
    2010/09/01

    Will, it wasn’t a dig at you. Rather a more general comment on the hysteria that sometimes surrounds Lomborg.

    [Oh, OK. Yes, BL annoys a lot of people, and has built a lot of his fame on that. He annoys me too, FWIW. But he isn’t nearly as wrong as people like to think. Rather like RP Jr on hurricane damage -W]

  9. #9 Alex Harvey
    2010/09/01

    William, an interesting idea and an interesting post. How much presumably coal fired energy is required to build these great solar generators in the first instance though? Is it workable?

    [You could use nukes I suppose. Or some sort of bootstrapping process -W]

    On Lomborg I was startled to read this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald that he’s allegedly ‘about faced’ on the climate change issue.

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-change-sceptics-uturn-20100831-14fng.html

    Is it true? I find it hard to believe and suspect there’s an issue of him being quoted out of context / wishful thinking from the journalist / usual AGW propaganda.

    Best,
    Alex

    [You’d have to read the new book to be sure. One possibility, somewhat cynical, is that he has a new book to sell, which means he has to say something new. My recollection is that his “copenhagen consensus” decided GW wasn’t worth bothering with. I’m not sure how he reconciles that -W]

  10. #10 Alex Besogonov
    2010/09/01

    “That dependency cuts both ways though. If the people at the ‘user end’ of the HVDC line decide they don’t want to buy the solar electricity any more, who will the people at the ‘producer end’ of the line sell it to?”

    Build an aluminium smelting facility, for example?

    (Aliminium is basically just a concentrated form of electricity)

    [If yuo look at the FAQ, they explain why conversion to hydrogen isn’t as good a method of transport as wires. Presumably that applies to Aluminium too. However, you can solve this dependency problem by getting the customers in the North to buy the bonds in the first place, so they own it -W]

  11. #11 D. C. Sessions
    2010/09/02

    If yuo look at the FAQ, they explain why conversion to hydrogen isn’t as good a method of transport as wires. Presumably that applies to Aluminium too.

    No, because the processing of aluminum (or any other energy-intensive industry) will be in demand independently of location. (Somewhat unlike hydrogen.) North Africa can either be a supplier of raw material (energy) which they ship to Europe to operate industry or they can move up the food chain to have the industry in North Africa.

    The latter is generally more profitable. However, even if it’s not a compelling business proposition it’s still a viable option as an alternative to selling energy to Europe, which means that it’s useful as a bargaining threat.

  12. #12 Eli Rabett
    2010/09/02

    Move the discount rate down a point while you move the cost of silicon down an order of magnitude. The “cost” of future problems depends 200% on the discount rate.

    BTW, southeast Spain and Greece ain’t Morocco, but get a lot of sun too.

  13. #13 Tim Worstall
    2010/09/03

    Re solar cells….yes, a lot of the energy currently used to make them is coal derived now. But it neededn’t bem as W points out.

    But there is another thing here. Almost all of the calculations of how much energy you need to make a solar cell are way out of date. The energy requirement is to make the silicon ingot: as with aluminium that’s where all almost all of the power is used. But we’re getting many more slices of solicon out of each ingot now: it’s doubled just since 2001/2. So each cell now neads less than half the energy it did just a decade ago.

    @Alex H. I had a quick look through what Lomborg was saying and is saying and very little has changed. In the original book he backed Nordhaus (rather than Stern, who of course hadn’t written the Review at that point) and suggested a low carbon tax now (about $7.50 per tonne CO2), credibly rising into the future and the money being spent on technological R&D.

    He’s now suggesting a carbon tax of $7 a tonne to be spent on technological R&D and now explicity says he backs Nordhaus not Stern.

    Changes??

  14. #14 Alex Harvey
    2010/09/05

    I reposted this at another list I read and had the following response from one participant:

    ‘Four hundred billion Euros will only buy 100 GWatts, not 500. In their question and answer page they state, “The investment in the construction of a CSP plant with air-cooling which is capable of producing 250 MW currently amounts to approximately EUR 1 billion. ” This is almost the same cost as the currently under construction Abengoa, Solana project in southern Arizona. Solana costs $1.8 Billion to provide 250 MW nominal output with about 6 hours of storage. With the storage the overall capacity factor is 41% and this seems to reflect the intentions of the Desertec project as well when they state, “The industry calculates on delivering top-level and middle-load capacities in the range of 2000 to 4000 full-load hours of capacity per year.” In other words, they are going to provide primarily expensive load following and peaking power which will provide a 23 to 46% CF, not the baseload that provides anywhere from 65% to 80% of the grid demand.

    ‘A little further down the Q&A page there is a table that indicates that 46% of energy will be supplied by what seems to be domestic renewables. Since most renewables cannot provide baseload or dispatchable power, and require some kind of back-up, perhaps someone can tell me where they think this is going to come from?”

    Any comments?

    [The wonks who follow this stuff will have to sort out the details; I don’t really care too much. All these insuperable technical objections will be supered if necessary -W]

  15. #15 Alex Harvey
    2010/09/05

    Tim Worstall #14

    Thanks for your comments. You confirm what I suspected.

    Best, Alex

  16. #16 Anne van der Bom
    2010/09/07

    Be careful with the MacKay’s book. He assumes that electric joules are equal to thermal joules. The result is he regularly overstates the amount of (renewable) electricity we need. So make sure you know what he is talking about.

  17. #17 HR
    2010/09/10

    The idea about covering the Sahara with solar power stations to feed Europe it’s electricity needs has been around for a while and whenever I come across it I always have the same thought. Who could possibly disapprove of that idea?

    Well I guess some uppity Africans might get a bit upset about the underlying assumptions.

  18. #18 TrujilloIRENE31
    2011/12/04

    Various people all over the world receive the loan in various creditors, just because that is fast and easy.

  19. #19 LavonneAcosta22
    2012/05/16

    Some time ago, I really needed to buy a good car for my corporation but I didn’t earn enough money and couldn’t purchase something. Thank heaven my mother suggested to get the mortgage loans at trustworthy creditors. So, I did that and used to be satisfied with my term loan.

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