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Energy COOL: A Powerful Renewable Vision

December 17th, 2007 · 5 Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies.  Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times.  And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL.  

One of the most powerful images for a renewable energy future, a burning hot one we might suggest, is the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC), which is a grand vision for connecting solar power in North Africa, wind power from the Eastern Mediterranean to the North Sea, bio-mass, and hydropower with a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) system of power lines to provide assured renewable electricity for the Mediterranean basin and Europe.

This concept, which has seemed ever so Renewable Energy COOL to me from the first time I encountered it, looks to be moving down a path from fantastic innovative concept to potential reality as Europe is heading toward an initial investment of $10 billion dollars in DESERTEC.

According to a recent Guardian article,

Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.

More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.

Billions of watts of power could be generated this way, enough to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs and to allow it to make significant cuts in its carbon emissions.

This is an amazing conception, a path for making reality of dreams for lighting our lives with the sun. 

At the same time, the stations would be used as desalination plants to provide desert countries with desperately needed supplies of fresh water.

The benefits are, as suggested here, multifacted. Regions of the world signficantly short of water (even drinking water) would get significant new freshwater supplies almost as what we could call a ‘by-product’ of the primary product … clean electricity.

This is not a small project, in any way of considering the question of size: a $200 billion investment over a 30 year period.  And, at the end of the day, the kilowatt hour cost for this electricity could likely be more than today’s coal electricity; that is, more expensive than coal-electricity that does not consider “external” costs of pollution.

The concept is to build 1000 concentrating solar power (CSP) plants on “cheap” land in North Africa.  

The massive construction program, the need for maintenance workers and operators, renewable energy for their economies, and the fresh water supplies  all point to great benefits for North Africa from seeing DESERTEC bloom into reality.

Systems of Systems

DESERTEC is appealing on many levels. In addition to the low (non) carbon electricity, water supplies, and economic benefits, consider these points:

  • Shaded areas under the mirrors of CSP plants are protected from the full glare of harsh tropical sunlight and may be used for many purposes, including horticulture using desalinated sea water.
  • Reduced tensions arising from shortages of energy and water.
  • Improved relations amongst people in EUMENA via a collaboration that yields benefits for all. This is a positive alternative to the confrontational policies of recent years.

While DESERTEC’s electricity would likely be more expensive than simple coal-fired electricity without any “external costs” (costs external to the contract, like CO2, mercury, and particulate pollution), with DESERTEC it looks like we should be speaking of external benefits and seeking to incorporate those benefits into the cost just as we seek to incorporate polluting (and other external) costs to the costs of fossil energy use.

Could DESERTEC be a path for changing North Africa’s trajectory and offering economic progress and opportunities across the region?

Might it be a tool to help change the direction of the “Global War on Terrorism” through creation of hope and economic opportunity?

Could the greening of areas around CSP plants in North Africa lead to the regreening of North Africa and, even more optimistically, start to lead to North Africa as a carbon sink with newly flourishing green zones?

Just the briefest of overviews

This discussion is, of course, only the briefest introduction to TREC. For years, this has been in the Energy COOL category for me. The discussion of $10 billion in coming investment suggests that others might find this Energy COOL as well. And, well, that perhaps this is an Energy COOL concept that might merit bringing over the pond as part of the Americas’ move away from a carbon-energy society toward an Energy Smart future.

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Tags: renewable energy

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michael // Dec 17, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    There is a new world wide web emerging right before our eyes. It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy.

  • 2 Hickmet Shaban, Phd // Jan 6, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Truly a grand vision. This future idea needs a lot of lobbying, policy making and financial backing; but it is possible.
    I have mentioned in my new book, now under printing “Energy, water resources and sustainability in the Arab World”, similar thought but for the Arab countries only, but I did mention that the extra electricity could be exported to the neighboring countries especially Europe. With the technical and partly financial by Europe.. it could be done. First as pilot plant to be tested for a decade before expanding the project. Good luck

  • 3 Energy Smarting J Street? « Energy Smart // Apr 16, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    […] (CSTP) for generating electricity. CSTP, which is getting a bit of attention (for reason), has the potential for quite serious benefits beyond just the cleanly generated […]

  • 4 Mathieu // Aug 10, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Why We Need Energy Alternative

    We are in the midst of an energy crisis. The price of a gallon of gas is sky high and there is a great deal of trouble-brewing in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran and other areas. These problems have made it clear to many United States citizens that we have an oil-driven economy.

  • 5 Sharp // Sep 24, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    This is a very agressive program and I like that they have balanced the renewable resources out. But the question I have is that they plan on exporting the power from north Africa, but do the residents of North Africa reap benefits from it or does it all go to the government and greedy businessmen. With the poverty levels in some of those countries there should be some restitution to the people who live in those countries.