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Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years 450

Posted by kdawson
from the nothing-new-under-the-sun dept.
An anonymous reader writes "If just 1% of the Sahara Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world. That's a powerful number, and the European Union has decided to jump on its proximity to the Sahara in order to reap some benefits from the untapped solar energy beaming down on Northern Africa. Yesterday, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced that Europe will start importing solar energy from the Sahara within the next five years. It is estimated that the initiative will cost €400 billion ($495 billion). It's part of an EU goal to derive 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. From the article: 'The EU is backing the construction of new electricity cables, known as inter-connectors, under the Mediterranean Sea to carry this renewable energy from North Africa to Europe. Some environmental groups have warned these cables could be used instead to import non-renewable electricity from coal- and gas-fired power stations in north Africa.' To this the energy minister replied, essentially, 'Good question, we'll get back to you on that.'"
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Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years

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  • Green?? (Score:2, Interesting)

    That's good news. As long as we are harnessing renewable energy, it is welcome.

    I would be more happy, if some way the dessert is made green part by part, while we are in there. Just a wishful thinking.

    • Only 1% (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:31AM (#32650242) Homepage

      It sounds easy ... but does the average person (or even slashdot reader) have any idea how big the Sahara Desert really is? Answer: About as big as the whole of the USA.

      Plus there's the teeny problem of building something stable on top of shifting sand dunes and transporting the stuff once you generate it (make liquid hydrogen and ship it?)

      • Re:Only 1% (Score:4, Interesting)

        by vtcodger (957785) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:34AM (#32650522)

        Tain't all sand. A lot of it is rock. And the normal way to move electricity is with transmission lines. Solved that problem about 8 decades ago.

        What does give pause is that the Southwestern deserts of the US are about as well situated to deliver solar power as the Northern Sahara is. And it can be gotten out -- at least to Coastal California -- without crossing any really difficult barriers like the Mediterranean. At least one of everything solar has been built out around Barstow. But as far as I can tell very little of that generation capacity is actually in daily use.

        The other problem is that hydro is the only renewable that can be used to trim baseline load and can be brought on line quickly when the wind stops blowing in Europe and/or starts blowing dust in North Africa. It's far from clear to me that Europe has really thought through all the problems associated with a large amount of solar/wind power generation and the difficulties of building reliable power distribution systems dependant on renewables.

        I'm not against it, and I wish them luck. But Saharan solar may not be as easy as it looks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by captainpanic (1173915)

        We've managed to cover well over 1% of Europe in buildings and asphalt... How difficult can it be to cover a desert with a micrometer thin layer of silicon (solar cells) or glass (mirrors)? Both use sand as the main raw material.

        Also, the Sahara is mostly rocky, not sand dunes. If the Americans can build skyscrapers in the Nevada desert, then we can place lightweight thin semiconductors or mirrors on a similar surface with much less effort.

        And no, we're just gonna transport electrons, not liquid hydrogen. F

      • Re:Only 1% (Score:4, Informative)

        by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashBLUEdot.org minus berry> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:00AM (#32650620)

        No. I’ve seen the plans. It’s Siemens (biggest German tech company btw.), providing them with HVDC [wikipedia.org] lines that go straight to some Pumped-storage hydroelectricity [wikipedia.org] dams/seas in the north, so that it works 24 hours a day.

        I haven’t thought about the shifting dunes. Apart from them, it’s a really good concept.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by LingNoi (1066278)

      There is no such thing as renewable energy.

      First you got to produce the panels which are environmentally damaging. Then you need to store the electricity in batteries which are also bad for the environment. Not only this but both things need to eventually be replaced as well. Sure it doesn't use oil, doesn't mean it's any better for the environment though. Even if you go with the pump water rather then use batteries idea it still requires flooding huge areas of the environment.

      A lot of environmentalists don

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nutria (679911)

        solar panels

        Unless they use solar concentrators, which are "just" parabolic mirrors super-heating mineral oil...

        You need to create huge barriers to stop sand storms from engulfing all your stuff.

        Heh. There's nothing man-made which could block a sand storm.

        And the first one that marches through will scour the delicate equipment into nothingness.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          depends on what it's made of.. You'd need something with a Mohs hardness rating [wikipedia.org] greater than that of refined silicon, or quartz. (Means a hardness score of greater than 7, which means something like Corundum [wikipedia.org] (Ruby/Sapphire/etc.) or synthetic diamond.

          Synthetic corundum is actually quite clear when it is made without any colorizing impurities, and admits much more light spectra than does silicon. It has been used successfully as a semiconductor medium [compoundse...ductor.net], and is gaining traction as a process substrate in bulk.

          (I

      • Re:Green?? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:14AM (#32650428)

        There is no such thing as renewable energy.

        Wait a minute, aren't you supposed to be part of the anti-PC words crowd? Do we have to call it "more renewable" energy now to make you happy? How about "Not Able To Be Burnt Up"(NATBBU?). The idea is to bootstrap ourselves using energy dense oil and coal to reach a level of tech where we can use the more plentiful energy sources which are more dispersed. Call me crazy, but working on a multi-century project to push back some of the desert, build some infrastructure in a wasteland*, and reaping huge long-term rewards sounds good to me; just because there are some wack jobs who do think that calling something "green" makes it good doesn't mean real critical thought can't be applied to a problem like this and have it result in a positive outcome.

        * Don't go calling the north slope a wasteland. Do an assay of the biomass in a cubic meter of summer tundra versus the Sahara.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by BananaBender (958326)
        We are not talking about photovoltaics (i.e. the direct production of electricity from the sun), but about solar heat power plants.
        The majority of power plants in this region will consist of nothing more than a whole bunch of mirrors to heat up some medium and a conventional turbine that uses the hot oil/water to generate electricity. This is a very simple technology, unlike solar panels used in photovoltaics.
        Energy storage will be solved using molten salt or other liquids, but most definitely not electr
      • by cgenman (325138)

        Can you back any of that up with hard statistics?

        Really, the question is one of tradeoffs. If you use the land a few miles outside of a major city such as Cairo, the additional roads required should be minimal. Unlike Coal, you don't need to trek the material in constantly. Also, it's not like major construction is unheard of in Egypt, though I bet many basic construction materials are much cheaper there than in the UK. Considering the manpower that goes into an oil plant vs a solar plant, you should ha

    • I would be more happy, if some way the dessert is made green

      Try adding food colouring, or just leave it in a warm, humid place. Though my refrigerator seems to work fine for that...

  • Always Negative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by muphin (842524) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:37AM (#32650040) Homepage

    Some environmental groups have warned these cables could be used instead to import non-renewable electricity from coal- and gas-fired power stations in north Africa.

    Why are environmentalists always negative focussing on the cables, we should be celebrating, this is a significant time for humanity, getting away from fossil fuels to solar and thermal power..

    i'm sure a few species will die because of this, i'm sure some habitats will get destroyed because of this, but imagine removing the dependence and waste of fossil fuels, this would benefit everyone.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thecodewerks (1749488)
      Environmentalist love to complain about new methods while offering up nothing in return. It is simply something for them to do so they can feel important.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        because it's easier to criticize the efforts of others than improve the world.

        • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:48AM (#32650302)

          NO. There is a very good reason they are asking this question [theecologist.org]. In Europe (Spain in particular [elmundo.es](Spanish)) diesel power has been passed off as renewable energy. The company get's to both sell dirty power AND collect on renewable energy subsidies. What's worse, nobody in the upper management or local politics has yet been prosecuted for the massive fraud - halls of power protecting their own it would appear.

          So the question the environmentalists are calling it right. If this happens IN Europe, what can we expect when it's over in Africa unless there are strict transparent controls put in place? One thing is certain: There will always be Companies that will do almost anything to make a buck - we need to ask and address how the system can be abused before we invest public funds into it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          But criticism and oversight are no less important.

          And to address the grandparents statement - I've always felt the notion that being critical of an idea somehow creates the responsibility to come up with a better one to be childish nonsense. It's just another way of saying "I don't like being criticized, so I'm not going to listen to you".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gadget_Guy (627405) *

        Environmentalist love to complain about new methods while offering up nothing in return.

        So what do you call all those people who advocated switching to renewable power sources in an attempt to save the world? Surely they are environmentalists? "Don't use fossil fuels" they say, "choose solar, wind or wave power". Now that people start heeding that advice, it seems a bit rich to say they offer nothing in return. The problem is not that they don't offer alternatives, it is that people don't want to hear what they say because it all seems too hard or too expensive.

        In this case, they were not comp

    • by jandersen (462034)

      Why are environmentalists always negative focussing on the cables

      Environmentlists - what a stupid word, as if it being concerned about the environment was a mere political view, but let it be - we are not all the same. Just as with any other label, there are many sorts; some will always whine, whether it is about cables that unreasonably can transport electricity even if it comes from the wrong sort of powerplant, or whether it is about something else.

      Some of us - most, I think - are well aware that it is better to reach an acceptable compromise than getting nowhere, bec

  • by Mr Z (6791) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:51AM (#32650088) Homepage Journal

    'The EU is backing the construction of new electricity cables, known as inter-connectors, under the Mediterranean Sea to carry this renewable energy from North Africa to Europe. Some environmental groups have warned these cables could be used instead to import non-renewable electricity from coal- and gas-fired power stations in north Africa.' To this the energy minister replied, essentially, 'Good question, we'll get back to you on that.'

    To quote Firesign Theatre, it's a "power so great, it can only be used for good or evil!"

    All seriousness aside, we need better energy conduits from these arid, sun-soaked regions. There is an abundance of solar energy waiting to be tapped in our deserts. Many, many, many human ills could be easily tackled by abundant energy. Sure, 1% of the Sahara can power our current usage. That fails to account for the fact that use increases as cost decreases. I'm sure if we managed to capture a much larger fraction of it, we'd put it to many unforseen uses, such as food synthesis, carbon sequestration, and so on.

    I think it's high time we started tapping seriously into the energy arriving at earth daily. There is no energy shortage. There is only an energy collection and redistribution shortage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Don't worry, it will be expensive enough :) The goal here is not to reduce cost, but to reduce carbon emissions as well as dependence on oil and, possibly, nuclear energy.
  • An issue that needs to be solved is the storage of electricity, as sunlight is available only during the day. Although it is not addressed in the article, the issue stays. One proven technology is hydroelectric storage using dams in the Atlas or in continental Europe. But the capacity is not high enough. But in any way, the Desertec is definitely a alternative to fossil fuels.

  • Why outsource? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:55AM (#32650112)
    You could cover a similar area in Spain and avoid some of the transmission loss. Spain could certainly use the business.
    • Re:Why outsource? (Score:5, Informative)

      by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:34AM (#32650254)
      Spain is already building large solar arrays (just drive around the country). It has also built a lot of wind farms. It's a mountainous country - contrary to what people who only ever fly to beach resorts might think, and gets a lot of wind as a result.

      In the future I foresee a lot of the power generated by solar power in dusty countries being used by them to power desalination, rather than selling to rich countries who don't want to litter their landscapes. Water will be a bigger problem for them in the decades to come than lack of electricity.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        I live in Spain and last time I looked at my electricity bill I was getting 20% of my electricity from 'renewables' (wind, solar, etc).

        I think we can get up to 30% of supply from renewables on a windy day and you can't drive on a major road these days without passing trucks loaded with wind turbine blades so it can only go up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by edgr (781723)

      Spain is actually a long way from, say, Germany. The middle of Spain is only about 10% closer to Berlin than Tunisia.

  • Sandstorms anyone? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by boojumbadger (949542)
    Wouldn't it be a little expensive to replace all the panels every time they get sandblasted by a windstorm?
  • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:01AM (#32650136) Homepage Journal

    ...suddenly reflected a hell of a lot less heat back into the atmosphere, you're going to alter the climate drastically -- which may well reduce the amount of energy you have to tap, as it's likely to cause a regional cooling, which may result in greater cloud formation. I'd want to see the climatologists study the proposal. More to the point, is there an advantage in using solar panels over having the sunlight heat water (which is vastly more efficient) and then use the steam to generate electricity?

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)

      More to the point, is there an advantage in using solar panels over having the sunlight heat water (which is vastly more efficient) and then use the steam to generate electricity?

      None at all. This proposal calls "solar panel" parabolic reflectors used to boil water in a tube and feed it to a turbine. They don't plan on using photovoltaics on this one.

      Cooling a small part of Sahara may have a local effect indeed, which I can't see as a bad thing. I doubt however that it can have an impact on the global scale however.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:05AM (#32650396)

      > If just 1% of the Sahara
      >...suddenly reflected a hell of a lot less heat back into the atmosphere, you're going to alter the climate drastically
      > -- which may well reduce the amount of energy you have to tap, as it's likely to cause a regional cooling,
      > which may result in greater cloud formation. I'd want to see the climatologists study the proposal.

      You don't need to be a climatologist to study that, high school math easily does it!

      Cross section of earth: > 3/4 * (40.000km)^2= 1.2e9 km^2
      Maximum area to be covered by solar cells in the desert for this project: 100km * 100km = 1e4 km^2

      Increase in solar radiation absorbed by earth surface: less than 0.001%
      (assuming absorption in area covered by solar cells is doubled, and not even considering the fact that it is visible only during the day)

      Increasing the absorbed energy by app. 1.3% will yield a temperature increase of 1K (300K -> 301K, radiated heat increases by fourth power of absolute temperature), so the 10.000km^2 of solar cells in the sahara will increase the temperature of the earth by less than a thousandth of a degree centigrade.

  • And the US...? (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by sonicmerlin (1505111)

    Wait a second. Doesn't the US have its own rocky deserts that are far, far safer and politically stabler from which to extract energy? Isn't the US the biggest economy in the world, *by far*? We should be the ones announcing these kinds of initiatives. This is the kind of infrastructure nation-building that would leap us to the forefront of alternative energy research, development, and exports, ensuring the growth of our economy for decades to come.

    I'm also kind of surprised the EU is able to pony up

  • I like it, Sand => Silicon => Solar Cells, So seems fair to put solar cells, in a hot sandy place.

    Except of course, the cells will get covered and scratched by the sand storms.

    They'll have to pay people to keep the cells clean uncovered and well polished.

    ---

    Solar Power [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • Sand Storms (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dreadlord76 (562584) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:06AM (#32650398)
    A single Volcano in Iceland shuts down air travel in Europe for days, so far....

    Wait until what a common sandstorm will do. Europe blacked out for days until the window cleaners can get onsite...
  • ... only imagine the amount of energy needed to melt the copper for the long distance high voltage lines ... somehow, I think this might not be the best approach to tapping Sahara Energy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ... only imagine the amount of energy needed to melt the copper for the long distance high voltage lines ... somehow, I think this might not be the best approach to tapping Sahara Energy.

      Let's not imagine it, let's calculate:

      10cm copper core (that's very generous), 1000km long (more than enough)
      --> 7854m^3 [google.com], or 70 000 tons [google.com]

      Now let's melt it:
      It's a cold day, so we start at 10 degrees Celsius, i.e. we have to heat it by about 1075K and therefore need
      "Energy to heat to melting point + Energy to overcome fusion enthalpy" = 4.3e13 Joules [google.com], that's 43TJ.

      Let the HVDC line have a capacity of 1GW, which is entirely realistic and probably too low. That's 1GJ/s.
      So, time to transfer the ene

  • by amn108 (1231606) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:20AM (#32650986)

    It appears we have grossly underestimated these Fremen, My Lord Baron...

  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @11:23AM (#32653756) Homepage Journal

    I can't be the only one who is sick and tired of smug-emitting environmentalists.

    As a conservationist, I find environmentalism offensive, and here's why: I support wind power. I support nuclear power. I support solar power. I support installation of generators in incinerators, and also would support investigation into building turbines into oil and gas fired central heating furnaces, to recoup as much of the energy as possible from the fossil fuels we do use.

    I do not support hybrids for drivers of small econoboxes, because when you are a city dweller driving only 12K miles or fewer per year, you will not offset the additional resources needed to manufacture your hybrid over a conventional econobox - and what's more, you won't be saving any money either. If you drive 30K miles, however, your hybrid will probably offset the additional resources to manufacture in five years, and you will probably reap enough fuel savings to offset the hybrid financial costs in three years. So, for most people, hybrids are not smart money. You're better off getting a small diesel and getting 50+mpg. Besides, you don't save all that much fuel going from 35mpg to 45mpg combined.

    I DO support the development of hybrid SUVs and large pickups, because going from 10mpg to 15mpg is a 50% improvement in economy, or going from 10mpg to 20mpg is a 100% improvement in economy. Instead of trying to push personal cars into impossibly-tighter emissions and economy standards, which cannot be attained without significantly lightening the cars by foregoing safety equipment like the European econoboxes do, we should be focused on the vehicles that really guzzle gas; Road tractors (often incorrectly called "semis"), large pickups, large SUVs, etc. - a LOT can be done to improve fuel mileage on all of those, and it doesn't even have to reduce utility or capacity. In fact, if implemented correctly, hybrid technology can actually increase hauling capacity when needed. However, if Congress has any business at all in setting fuel economy standards, it should focus on netting 50% and 100% savings on fuel consumption where it really goes to waste, and not putting the smack down on the little guy to net a 3% savings on a drop in the bucket.

    The problem with environmentalists is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone): any time a new natural gas or propane depot is proposed (cleaner than oil, coal, gasoline, etc.) the enviro-nazis oppose it. Any time a solar farm is propoosed, enviro-nazis opppose it because it might upset a scorpion or two and a family of rattlesnakes. Any time a wind farm is proposed (such as Cape Wind/Nantucket Sound Wind Farm), enviro-nazis oppose it and block it for years on the ground that someday some stupid seagull might fly into it and die. Any time a clean nuclear plant is proposed, it gets knocked down. At the same time, these self-same environazis want us to stop using oil NOW, and to use alternative energy.

    Therein lies the problem: we WANT to use alternative energy, and any time anyone tries to actually provide it on any kind of practical, usable scale that will make a difference, the same idiots who want us off oil NOW oppose the clean energy with NIMBY and BANANA. I'm sorry, but there is no magic pixie dust. Want us off oil? Guess what? Without magic pixie dust, we need to build nukes, wind, and solar power plants in order to get off oil. You cannot have one without the other, and if the only alternative is that we go back to living in tents, I suggest that the Al Gore types and all of his disciples take the lead and live a couple of harsh winters in tents, then if it works out well for you, we'll all follow your example.

    Until then, either stuff it, or come to some sort of happy medium and work with conservationists who actually want to limit the use of oil and get us to that point by implementing the technologies that can replace it.

    Getting rid of cars isn't going to do it. Mass transit sucks. Cutting fuel consumption in passenger c

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MadUndergrad (950779)

      I'm sick and tired of NIMBYs being called environmentalists. Every time someone has an opinion an environmentalist might also have, people start bitching about environmentalists. If you don't see the difference there then you need to stop and figure it out before posting again.

      Further, "environmentalist" is a broad category. The thing that unifies them (us) is that they want the biosphere to retain its ecological diversity, abundance and capability for supporting complex life (these three are interrelated).

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