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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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  • Yay... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:30AM (#32650012) Homepage
    ...for yet another way to be dependent on this already-unstable region of the world which already has a choke-hold on energy production.
  • Re:Yay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tcolberg (998885) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:37AM (#32650038)
    Well, we're talking about North Africa, not the Middle East. Sure, they're close to each other geographically, but the political realities are different. Further, the direct foreign investment of this sort of "infrastructure" could be beneficial. The influx of money should raise the standard of living those countries and it might encourage a different sort of economic growth than what we've seen in economies fueled by petrodollars.
  • Always Negative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by muphin (842524) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:37AM (#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.

  • great but stupid (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:39AM (#32650042)
    Hurray for renewable energy but wow, this is stupid. If that summary is correct, spending almost half a trillion in one single place with one single technology to move to renewable energy is extremely stupid. I know the desert isn't exactly known for its horrific hurricanes but who knows what could happen! One earthquake or well placed nuke and all their expensive energy modifications go dark. They should spend a few billion in many different places instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.
  • Re:Yay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dontPanik (1296779) <ndeselms.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:41AM (#32650048)

    How does Africa already have a choke-hold on energy production? Are you confusing Africa with the Middle East?

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:46AM (#32650066) 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.

    OK, who wants to get up and defend this one? Here we are, trying to do something positive, and environmentalists come down hard on it. Is anyone here surprised or consider this atypical? It's almost as if environmentalists don't want any development whatsoever to happen from now until the end of humanity.

  • Re:Always Negative (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thecodewerks (1749488) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:48AM (#32650070)
    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.
  • by Mr Z (6791) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:51AM (#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.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:52AM (#32650092)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity [wikipedia.org]

    And Europe has enough mountains to do this with.

  • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:52AM (#32650098)

    "Some environmental groups". In other words, a couple of total fucking nutcases. Just like we have nutcases to criticize every other initiative, idea, concept etc.

    Some idiot shouting is not what is noteworthy. What is, however, is that de media (and yes, that includes you kdawson) give them credence in order to stir up controversy and rack up the hits to score more ad income.

    Might I suggest kdawson gets a new job where he tries to rickroll us once a day and otherwise loses all privileges? The end result would pretty much be the same.

  • Sandstorms anyone? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by boojumbadger (949542) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:59AM (#32650126)
    Wouldn't it be a little expensive to replace all the panels every time they get sandblasted by a windstorm?
  • Re:Yay... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jandersen (462034) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:59AM (#32650128)

    ...for yet another way to be dependent on this already-unstable region of the world which already has a choke-hold on energy production.

    Depends on how you tackle the situation. One of the main reasons why we have such a strained relationship with the Middle East the fact that we have messed with the people in that region in a hostile way for a long time: Crusades, Imperialism etc - and Israel, of course. Perhaps we could approach it somewhat more diplomatically this time?

    Handled the right way, this could mean that an impoverished region of Africa can finally get a chance to develop.

  • Re:Always Negative (Score:3, Insightful)

    by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:03AM (#32650148)

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

  • Re:Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chuq (8564) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:08AM (#32650158) Homepage Journal

    I don't think anyone literally expects a single 1% area to be covered by solar panels and for this to be the sole worldwide energy generator. It was more an indication of the amount of energy hitting the earth's surface and what little amount of this energy we use.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:08AM (#32650160) Homepage
    They are not nutcases. They are powerful pressure groups, able to influence the policies that rule your life. Don't dismiss this as the work of discredited extremists, what government minister even has meetings with crazy extremists?
  • Re:Small minds... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lightspeedius (263290) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:11AM (#32650176) Homepage

    I want to see molten salt.

  • by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:15AM (#32650192)

    They are not nutcases. They are powerful pressure groups, able to influence the policies that rule your life.

    Unfortunately those two things are not mutually exclusive.

  • by Timmy D Programmer (704067) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:20AM (#32650204) Journal
    Yea so the Sahara is always sunny. It's not worth the tradeoff. Would you really like to extend your dependence on people who want you dead to actually outlast the oil supply? Really?
  • by wwwald (1452511) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:20AM (#32650206) Homepage
    Hardly an argument to call this a green energy scam, no?
  • by Nutria (679911) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:36AM (#32650262)

    So this power will have to travel through such stable, well-governed countries as Algeria and Libya.

    Unless you put the power station in Morocco or Tunisia...

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:00AM (#32650366) Journal
    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.
  • Re:Green?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nutria (679911) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:01AM (#32650370)

    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:Always Negative (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gadget_Guy (627405) * on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:05AM (#32650394)

    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 complaining about the cables, but asking how you ensure that it really is renewable energy coming over those cables.

  • Re:Green?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:14AM (#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:Yay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bcmm (768152) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:15AM (#32650430)

    ...for yet another way to be dependent on this already-unstable region of the world which already has a choke-hold on energy production.

    You aren't allowed to comment on geopolitics any more until you can tell the difference between different sorts of people that aren't white...

  • Re:Always Negative (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:43AM (#32650544) Homepage

    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".

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:54AM (#32650598) Homepage
    The problem with that argument is that the group of people that might be considered to be in the set "Environmentalist" is itself a collection of sub-sets, each of which has their own preferred solutions and solutions they oppose. Given the number of people in the set "Environmentalist" the chances are that for every single alternative technology power supply there are going to be people that oppose it loudly enough to get reported in the media.
  • 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.

    OK, who wants to get up and defend this one?

    I will, because it's a damm good question.
     

    Here we are, trying to do something positive, and environmentalists come down hard on it.

    The makers of Thalidomide [wikipedia.org] thought they were trying to do something positive as well I bet. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It's not enough to try and do something positive, one must be sure one is actually doing something positive. This is the real world where real actions have real consequences, not your first grade classroom where everybody gets a trophy for trying - even if they don't actually accomplish anything.
     
    It's easy (and childish) to simply dismiss the concerns as being from "those [obstructive] environmentalists, it's much harder to honestly answer the question.
     

    It's almost as if environmentalists don't want any development whatsoever to happen from now until the end of humanity.

    It's almost as if you didn't actually read their statement or bother to attempt to understand it. They didn't say "lets not build this", they said "lets make sure this accomplishes it's stated goal".

  • by Lemming Mark (849014) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:03AM (#32650632) Homepage

    Yeah, I thought that. But then I thought a bit more and - is it that hard to believe the idea that politicians might sell a massive investment in cabling to the taxpayers by saying "Oh, it's for a brand new green energy thingy" and then let their friendly lobbying oil companies use the link when the green power plans "happen" to fall through? I'm not accusing the politicians of trying to pull the wool over our eyes in this instance, just asserting that it's generally in their nature. If someone doesn't keep asking the right questions (along the lines of "How can we guarantee this is a good thing, not a subtly different thing that'll make lots of money?") then it's not surprising when we get nasty surprises.

    That said, I do think some environmentalist groups are just being obstructive about relatively promising technologies, given that they're not going to be able to convert the whole world to a different way of life that doesn't require them!

  • Re:And the US...? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:21AM (#32650716)

    You don't seriously believe that the alternative energy movement is being taken seriously by the administration, do you? The powers that be realized that they could make more money faster by selling the country than by making it more profitable.

    I expect to be labeled "flamebait", so I'm hiding behind this AC moniker.

  • Re:Only 1% (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:33AM (#32650778) Homepage Journal

    >>What would happen if you installed hydroelectric dams at the openings to the Red sea, The straight of Gibraltar, and the Black sea; then used the whole Mediterranean as the power storage device, by pumping Atlantic ocean water into it at the straight of Gibraltar?

    If you could dam the *Strait* of Gibraltar, then you wouldn't need to use it as a power storage device. The tidal power generated from it would be massive.

  • Re:Yay... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:35AM (#32650792)

    Yup, the difference between muslims of arabic origin that used to be colonised from europe and were part of the ottoman empire 100 years ago and read arabic and um, muslim arabs that used to be colonised from europe and were part of the ottoman empire 100 years ago and read arabic.

  • by bugnuts (94678) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:36AM (#32650794) Journal

    Even if coal-fired energy was sold through those cables, who cares? The environmentalists don't. They care that it does the stated goal of transferring renewable energy and want to make sure that, if connected to a non-renewable grid, some bozo doesn't suddenly decide to shitcan the solar arrays.

    If it never connects to a non-renewable grid, great. In that case, the environmental groups are incorrect. But from the response, it sounds like the project is intentionally connecting to a non-renewable grid to help power the local area, too. The thing is, once an electron is on a wire, it's kind of difficult to determine where that electron came from. Cheating (or outright lying about) what you call "renewable" when it can't be traced surely will lead to corruption.

  • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:52AM (#32650878)

    Yes, they are. And no, they are not powerful.

    Little anecdote: in the Netherlands a number of us want to build a second nuclear powerplant. Obviously greenpeace is opposed to this, so they staged a protest by climbing up the old city hall(medieval building) and raising a giant flag. Then they sat there for a couple of hours.

    You know what this stunt got them? A 3 line article in the newspaper featuring a comment from a local police officer who in passing by had commented on the fact that they had attached themselves to the same hooks we used to hang convicted prostitutes.

    Do you get the gist from the article that the aforementioned environmentalists were in any way being taken seriously? They get 2 lines and a curt dismissal, nothing more. kdawson then went out of his way to include only those first 2 lines, knowing full well there's a group of Slashdotians who will start foaming at the mouth when they read it.

    The real environmentalists have several political parties which they can choose from that can influence policy. The nutcases stand on the sidelines and are mostly ignored until they get dangerous, at which time we have them removed by the local authorities.

  • by piotru (124109) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:08AM (#32651226) Homepage Journal

    One explanation could be that the environmentalists are opposed to economical development of Africa. Not so uncommon desire amongst the environmentalists is to limit the human population. Now, prosperity Africa is surely going to mean more healthy children surviving.

    Mod me down, if your cognitive structures start moving dangerously.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:12AM (#32651250)

    What's in it for us, except for a lot of dead soldiers and wasted money?

  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @10:23AM (#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

  • by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @11:39AM (#32654762)
    How is it positive to spend a lot of money on an undersea cable to get power from coal and gas fired power plants in North Africa? It seems like it would be much more cost-efficient to just build the plants in Europe.

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