Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Power Earth News

Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years 450

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years

Comments Filter:
  • At least the minister's response quoted in the article is positive. The summary butchered it:

    "This is a good question but not a question to destroy our project," Oettinger said. "This question must be answered by a good answer and so we need ways to ensure that our import of electricity is from renewables."
  • Re:Yay... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hatman39 ( 1759474 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:25AM (#32650218)
    The official language of Morocce is Arabic....has been for many years.
  • by Zumbs ( 1241138 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:32AM (#32650246) Homepage
    A large proportion of the Sahara desert is a rocky desert, so there are few sandstorms. Indeed, the technology used has been tested in US rocky deserts, very similar to the Saharan ones.
  • 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.

  • Re:Yay... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:43AM (#32650282)

    How does Africa already have a choke-hold on energy production?

    Pay more attention. He didn't say Africa, he said unstable region.

    Both Africa and the M.E. are part of one big, contiguous, mostly-Muslim unstable region.

  • by FriendlyLurker ( 50431 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:44AM (#32650286)

    The environmentalists are right to ask the question, there are antecedents []. In Europe (Spain in particular [](Spanish)) there have already have cases of diesel power being passed off as renewable energy - they got caught only because they were arrogant enough to pass it off as solar energy... at night. If they had not been so greedy we would still be non the wiser, and 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 - 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.

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

    NO. There is a very good reason they are asking this question []. In Europe (Spain in particular [](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.

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:52AM (#32650318)

    we have messed with the people in that region in a hostile way for a long time: Crusades

    Has everyone forgotten that the Muslims invaded Europe through Iberia/Spain 350 years before the First Crusade?

    All of Europe would be Muslim if it weren't for a forward thinking (hack, spit, cough) Frenchman 1250 years ago.

  • Re:Yay... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:54AM (#32650340)

    True, Arabic is the official language, but I have yet to meet a Moroccan not speaking French.
    As per Wikipedia, it's the country's "second unofficial language":

  • Re:And the US...? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sourcerror ( 1718066 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:02AM (#32650372)

    The EU has bigger economy. []

  • Re:Yay... (Score:2, Informative)

    by indeciso ( 1350357 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:04AM (#32650384) []

    French, which is Morocco's unofficial second language, is taught universally and serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics. It also is widely used in education and government.

    So at least, they seem to know the alphabet.

  • 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.

  • Re:Why outsource? (Score:2, Informative)

    by edgr ( 781723 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:15AM (#32650432)

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

  • Re:Green?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by BananaBender ( 958326 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:17AM (#32650436)
    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 electrical batteries. So all in all, this project is technologically very feasible. Please check []
  • Re:Green?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:29AM (#32650496)

    depends on what it's made of.. You'd need something with a Mohs hardness rating [] greater than that of refined silicon, or quartz. (Means a hardness score of greater than 7, which means something like Corundum [] (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 [], and is gaining traction as a process substrate in bulk.

    (It is also technically feasible to manufacture it in large single crystals, for use in making solar collectors or mirrors.)

  • Re:Yay... nope! (Score:5, Informative)

    by thms ( 1339227 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:54AM (#32650602)

    The influx of money should raise the standard of living [in] those countries and it might encourage a different sort of economic growth than what we've seen in economies fueled by petrodollars.

    What growth? Countries which get essentially "free money" often have shrinking economies [] . Whether they get paid for oil underground or sun shining on the ground doesn't matter. They don't become poor, but they end up importing everything because local labor is so unattractive an expensive. See Dutch disease etc., this was just recently discussed on /. in relation to the "trillion dollar ore miracle" in Afghanistan.

    And these solar arrays are probably built by non-local companies, so no local know-how is rewarded. Then the states just get monetary compensation for maintenance work, not for fabricating anything. Now how to build a local economy.

  • Re:Only 1% (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> 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 [] lines that go straight to some Pumped-storage hydroelectricity [] 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.

  • by the_other_chewey ( 1119125 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:31AM (#32650772)
    Solved problem, HVDC []. Read it, might make you look less like a moron the next time.

    Did you really think that nobody thought about that beforehand?
  • Re:Yay... (Score:3, Informative)

    by jlar ( 584848 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:24AM (#32651012)

    They definitely have a large demographic momentum (many young people) but the total fertility rates (TFR) are in free fall in some of the countries. Here are some current numbers from the CIA World Factbook:

    Western Sahara: 4.37 (only ~500.000 inhabitants)
    Libya: 3.01
    Morocco: 2.23
    Algeria: 1.76
    Tunisia: 1.71

    As you can see the largest North African countries are now barely reproducing (although their populations will continue to grow for a generation or so due to the shape of their population pyramids). Their population booms are essentially over and they seem to be heading for TFR's below that of the USA.

    So my guess is that the main source of instability in those regions will in fact be immigration from Central Africa into these countries.

  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:3, Informative)

    by the_other_chewey ( 1119125 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:52AM (#32651144)

    ... 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 [], or 70 000 tons []

    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 [], 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 energy needed to melt this outrageously fat string of copper:
    43TJ/(1GJ/s) = a tiny bit over 12 hours. []

    Sounds like a good deal to me.

  • by quokkaZ ( 1780340 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:55AM (#32651160)

    Is around one hundred Westinghouse AP1000 1GWe modern Generation III+ nuclear power plants (or similar plants from another manufacturer). I reckon you may even be able to negotiate a bit of a discount for an order of that size. As a rough estimate, this would supply the current electricity needs of the UK, Spain and the Netherlands.

    The latter would then be able to lower their per kWh CO2 emissions to around what France (which generates about 75% of it's electricity from nuclear) has already achieved. It remains a fact that aside from countries blessed with the right geography and climate for large scale hydro or the geology for geothermal, France's CO2 emissions per kWh are waaaaay below any other country.

    Even better, start building the Generation III+ reactors and begin a crash development program for Generation IV reactors which are something like one hundred times more efficient and can 'burn' the waste from current reactors thereby turning a problem into a huge energy asset.

  • by capnchicken ( 664317 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:18AM (#32652090)

    Trinchera Ranch [] has been the source of some of these kind of troubles, I remember seeing a 60 minutes on something like this too, can't find it right now or remember if it's the same place (I think that was on a place in New Mexico, probably had turtles []).

    Protip: Read more than the first editorial returned, like how Trinchera Ranch was the single largest real estate purchase by an Environmentalist ... Hedge Fund Manager.

    source for that one too: []

  • Re:Morons (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:21AM (#32652140)
    People all over the world are doing it near power lines.

    It has been defined as a crime in the United States to do it, but people do it anyways. Hard to detect, harder to locate.
  • Re:Yay... nope! (Score:3, Informative)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:43AM (#32652372) Homepage Journal

    There is a difference. We make CPUs, airliners, jet engines, cars, roads, houses, drugs, and so one. I do agree that we really need to start making even more stuff but we do make a lot of big ticket high complexity items.

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

    by svick ( 1158077 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @10:05AM (#32652602)
    You are kidding, right? According to Wikipedia [], the US is somewhere between the 9th and 14th place when it comes to GDP per capita. Better scores than the US have some European countries (like Luxembourg) and Arab oil countries (like Qatar).
  • Re:Only 1% (Score:3, Informative)

    by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @10:33AM (#32652936)
    No, it doesn't have tides, but it still has nearly constant flow of water through the Straight. Saltier, denser water sinks and constantly flows out to the open ocean at depth. Surface evaporation pulls new water into the Mediterranean. Tidal flows are only occasionally powerful enough to disrupt this flow, and then only during brief periods. There have been a number of proposals over the years to install undersea impellers to capture this energy.
  • Re:Yay... (Score:3, Informative)

    by __aailob1448 ( 541069 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:20PM (#32655272) Journal

    Hi, Quadrilingual moroccan-american reporting in to prove you right.

  • by MadUndergrad ( 950779 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:40PM (#32660748)

    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). Some want to do that by going back to the stone age, some want to do it by advancing to sufficiently clean technologies while sensibly designing our infrastructure and generally not being wasteful (me). You will find people everywhere in between.

    Yet further, there is a lot of information out there and people grok it in different ways, or not so much at all. Rather than complaining about them and calling them disingenuous, perhaps you could educate them and help them see whether their priorities are straight and whether their actions are helping them achieve those goals.

"Pull the wool over your own eyes!" -- J.R. "Bob" Dobbs