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Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the nothing-new-under-the-sun dept.

Power 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.'"

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450 comments

Yay... (1, Insightful)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650012)

...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... (5, Insightful)

tcolberg (998885) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Yay... (5, Interesting)

alfredos (1694270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650194)

I completely agree. Spain is investing quite a bit in Morocco lately, for it is very close geographically and the costs are quite low. Not as low as in China but again, it's easier to work with people who at least uses the same alphabet as you do. In Morocco they speak French but many people speak Spanish too. It seems that we will finally have the kind of mutually beneficial relationship with them as other countries have managed to have with their former colonies. We are only a century behind or so.

Re:Yay... (2, Informative)

Hatman39 (1759474) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650218)

The official language of Morocce is Arabic....has been for many years.

Re:Yay... (1)

alfredos (1694270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650336)

Sorry, I should have known better than to fall victim to the French propaganda machine in the region. I hasten to add that I say that with due respect for their work, not to start a flame.

Re:Yay... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morocco#Languages

Re:Yay... (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650346)

Unlike some other "educated" countries, the people of Morocco have realized that some people in other countries speak different languages, and that you can't overcome this by simply talking at them with an increased volume and decreased speed.

Re:Yay... (2, Informative)

indeciso (1350357) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650384)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morocco#Languages [wikipedia.org]

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.

Re:Yay... (1)

deniable (76198) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650280)

I'd say the time-zone would be more useful than anything else. You don't end up playing time-zone telephone tag with people.

Let me put this noose around my neck... (1, Interesting)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650224)

So this power will have to travel through such stable, well-governed countries as Algeria and Libya. I am certain that people like Gaddafi would never abuse the power this will give him...

It actually is a really good idea, from the point of view of power generation. But the political realities are a huge problem.

Re:Let me put this noose around my neck... (4, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#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...

Re:Yay... (1)

SwedishCoward (1838398) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650330)

The main problem for Africa's development seems to be political corruption. That's why you can't just build a powerline and expect wealth and sustainable energy in return. But despite the difficulties I think it could be successfull.

Re:Yay... (4, Insightful)

dontPanik (1296779) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650048)

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

Re:Yay... (4, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Yay... (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650310)

its all that equatorial sun. it grows more biomass that becomes coal and oil reserves, more direct light for solar power, and parched hot days to drive men and countries mad.

Re:Yay... (1)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650454)

The plates have moved about extensively since the formation of fossil fuels; tropical areas probably do not have oil that was formed in the tropics.

Re:Yay... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650458)

Yeah I mean I would never travel to California, Venezuela is just far too much of a political hotbed.

Re:Yay..., also - win-win (1)

dragisha (788) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650124)

I don't see how Northern Africa is "unstable enough" to state it in such a way, but maybe we weren't on same classes... Africa IS developing world, but it's not Middle East or Central Asia. Not at all. It's very good place to come with money in search for resources.

As for OP mention of possible import of coal produced energy.... Whatever - it's win-win for EU. It's easier to pay for energy than to produce and care about production waste, even in coal case.

If renewables... Europe can't have Africa's sunlit hours, even wind is questionable... And it can use more wind and sun, in any case.

If coal... Let some over-big-sea country worry about waste.

win-win

Re:Yay... (1, Insightful)

jandersen (462034) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

"The West" is the cause of all Arab problem? Hah! (4, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Silly Idea, Plenty of good wasteland elsewhere (1, Insightful)

Timmy D Programmer (704067) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650204)

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?

Re:Yay... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650298)

Given the demographic factors they'll soon take over Europe anyway.

Re:Yay... (5, Insightful)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#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...

Green?? (2, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650020)

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.

Re:Green?? (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650122)

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.

So...are you gonna spend the next couple of millenia slowly turning into a sandworm while blabbering to a series of ghola's? Think of the worms man!

Only 1% (4, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650242)

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:Green?? (1, Redundant)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650308)

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't really think ahead. They don't think when things scale up. Take the headline for example.

If just 1% of the Sahara Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world.

To the average person that sounds great until you start to think about all the infrastructure needed to stick solar panels in the desert. You need to build roads and buildings for the project. You need to import materials needed for construction. You need to create huge barriers to stop sand storms from engulfing all your stuff.

According to wikipedia the Sahara is around "9,400,000 sq km or 3,630,000 sq miles". The makes 1% of the Sahara 94,000 kilo-meters or 58,408 miles. That's billions of solar panels.

I'm not saying that replacing energy production shouldn't be a goal, however to say we should build billions of solar panels in the dessert to replace environmentally damaging oil/coal power stations is both ridiculous and hypocritical. It lacks critical thinking, so just saying as long as it's renewable energy, do it just causes more harm then good.

Re:Green?? (2, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Green?? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650496)

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.

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

Re:Green?? (3, Insightful)

Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Green?? (2, Informative)

BananaBender (958326) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 http://www.desertec.org/ [desertec.org]

Re:Green?? (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650476)

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 have far fewer buildings and less personnel overall.

If you're exporting the power, and it is only providing a percentage of Europe's needs, you probably don't need to store the power at all. There is currently quite a bit of overcapacity on the grid at night anyway. As part of a balanced power plan storing the power at night isn't needed.

Other than the batteries, all of the charges you've leveled at Solar could be applied to Coal or Gas as well, with the added caveat that Coal or Gas's environmental impact should include all of the excavation and drill work that goes into those power sources. Finding, excavating, transporting, and processing coal are all dirty, nasty subjects.

Solar power is renewable in that we're not going to hit peak solar any time soon. It also doesn't spill out into the ocean, and we don't have to go to war when OPEC decides they need new sportscars. It doesn't contribute directly to Carbon Dioxide levels (other than basic construction, which other plants would need too). And it reduces the leverage than any one energy supplier has over us.

Major solar rollouts such as this one probably won't be completed until at the soonest 2020. That just happens to be a frequent estimate of when peak oil will hit. In today's climate, renewables and oil-based power generation is running pretty close on costs. As the cost of oil continues an inevitable rise, the balance sheet is only going to skew in solar's favor.

Re:Green?? (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650324)

I had the same thought...basically we could just try to filter and pump seawater straight into the desert to form lakes there. That should form some brief oasis, a little start...on the other hand I'm a dreamer with his head in the clouds.

Good luck with that (-1, Flamebait)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650022)

So the EU is broke with several nations teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, but it's going to find 400,000,000,000 Euros to throw into another 'green energy' scam?

Re:Good luck with that (1)

wwwald (1452511) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650162)

Could you explain the "green energy scam" part?

Re:Good luck with that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650182)

Google 'spain night time solar'.

Subsidized solar energy producer in spain ran generators at night in order to get more money.

Re:Good luck with that (2, Insightful)

wwwald (1452511) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650206)

Hardly an argument to call this a green energy scam, no?

Re:Good luck with that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650216)

Too soon to say.

Morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650032)

oh yes, these guys have not learnt anything from that piracy problem. Unless, they plan to have an army of their own to safeguard these solar plants. Oh, and add those costs in, and those cheap energy promises might not be all that cheap any more..

Re:Morons (1)

keeboo (724305) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650140)

Somalia: East Africa, Indian Ocean
Sahara: North Africa, Mediterranean Sea

Re:Morons (1)

oiron (697563) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650228)

Unless the GP is talking about Hayreddin Barbarossa [wikipedia.org] ... ;-)

Re:Morons (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650350)

So? You mean somebody drills a hole into the lines and drains electricity just like they do with pipelines?

for yet another way (-1, Offtopic)

Wedding dresses now (1838928) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650034)

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

Always Negative (4, Insightful)

muphin (842524) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650040)

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:Always Negative (2, Insightful)

thecodewerks (1749488) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Always Negative (2, Insightful)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650148)

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

...or Always Vigilant against Fraud, perhaps (4, Informative)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Always Negative (2, Insightful)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Always Negative (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650248)

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, because we won't back down from our high and holy principles. As for species - I can't wee why any need to be threatened at all; certainly not if we are talking about only 1% or even 2% of the desert. It is a simple matter of looking before we jump.

great but stupid (2, Insightful)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:great but stupid (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650326)

One earthquake or well placed nuke and all their expensive energy modifications go dark

Earthquake? I think they may even have thought about that - there are ways to secure against them, you know. As for nuclear weapons, that would be a very good incentive to make friends with people in the region, don't you think?

Anyway, it is not as if the Sahara is "just one place"; it is actually 9,400,000 km2 (according to Wikipedia) compared to the US' 9,826,675 km2.

Rubbish (1, Interesting)

smallfries (601545) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650044)

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...

That completely misrepresents the problem. If you cover 100% of the Sahara Desert with solar panels it still won't provide all of the power that the world needs, because some of that power is needed during night in that timezone.

Small minds... (5, Interesting)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650074)

If you have power to spare, even moderately efficient energy storage solutions become viable.

A water->hydrogen->water cycle may be less than 50% efficient, but then just take 2%.

Same for solar thermal storage in molten salt solutions.

Re:Small minds... (2, Insightful)

lightspeedius (263290) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650176)

I want to see molten salt.

large amount energy storage, 70-85% efficient (4, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650092)

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

And Europe has enough mountains to do this with.

Re:large amount energy storage, 70-85% efficient (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650250)

In Switzerland we flooded quite a few mountain valleys to build dams. Every time we did this mountain villages had to be abandoned and ecosystems were destroyed.

Re:large amount energy storage, 70-85% efficient (1)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650334)

Pollution destroys ecosystems too.

You can't just wish human impact away, you just have to work to minimize it.

Re:large amount energy storage, 70-85% efficient (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650342)

Don't you realise that creating dams everywhere not only ruins the environment and local wildlife but also displaces anyone living in the path of the new planned dam.

Re:Rubbish (1)

aevan (903814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650094)

So you store it... 16story batteries... 5 miles of capacitor banks, something. Of course that won't ever happen, but neither will the Sahara be powering the world (pretty sure be some hefty loss in the transmission to New Zealand or Hawaii, plus logistics involved in setting it up/running it, would put it well past feasible).

Just an attempt at selling the potential there: 'of COURSE this isn't a waste of cash, we're tapping just an iota of the power that is the desert sun! even if we screw up massively we can still come out ahead, and if not, well, we tried, what have you done for the planet lately?'

Personally more curious of the damage a sandstorm could do to the solar cells, or attempts at 'kidnapping/hijacking for prisoners for ransom', than worried about terrorist bombings (to address another post).

Re:Rubbish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650146)

I'm just wondering exactly how little of it we'd need to cover if we had more efficient solar panels.

Or what if we sent mirrors into space to reflect sunlight on the Sahara so the panels could collect even more power! Mirrors and lenses and we can reflect and focus!

Re:Rubbish (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650382)

Or what if we sent mirrors into space to reflect sunlight on the Sahara...

Yeah, they'd also become handy if some ice-cold scientist freezes up Gotham...again.

Re:Rubbish (4, Insightful)

Chuq (8564) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650158)

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.

Re:Rubbish (1)

Edward_Colgate (1264706) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650426)

I'm sure the energy would simply be stored, but for some reason I had forgotten there'd only be access to the sun about half of the time though.

But you know like those lights you get in gardens, solar powered during the day and then it's used at night.

Re:Rubbish (1)

jlebrech (810586) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650464)

That what capacitors are for!

Naughty cables (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650064)

"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.'"
In the same way the Internet can be used for Porn, or for boring stuff. Cars can be used to kill people or as a convenient form of transport. Etc. Lay the cables, audit the supplies, just get on with it.

Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (1, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650066)

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:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (4, Informative)

Biogenesis (670772) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650080)

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:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (2, Insightful)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (3, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650160)

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:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (5, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650222)

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.

There is a term for these folks: BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything)

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (1)

Zumbs (1241138) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650232)

By posing the question, they may be able to get some verification that the imported power actually is from renewable energy sources. Given how BP has been acting, I would not trust any power company longer than I could throw them, so some sort of semi-independent verification would be nice. Furthermore, the EU has signed the Kyoto accords, and is required to lower its CO2 emmisions. If it gets difficult to attain this goal, I would not put it past the EU and national governments to import energy from other countries, and when the infrastructure is right there ...

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (4, Informative)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650286)

The environmentalists are right to ask the question, there are antecedents [theecologist.org] . In Europe (Spain in particular [elmundo.es] (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.

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650332)

This comes a lot to the way news reports work. "Environmentalist" is such a wide label that you will find people wearing it opposed to almost any possible action. So when a tech news happen, it has become a duty for journalists to find a "silly environmentalist" who opposes it. Too bad they don't mention the legion of environmentalists who give a big thumbs up to such a program. I mean, there are green political parties (which are a political force in Europe) who applaud that. But nevermind. Environmentalists have to be equalled to "silly anti-tech people" in tech news. That's ridiculous to create imaginary adversity like that.

Re:Environmentalists against it, what a surprise (4, Interesting)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650472)

And how did you conclude that the environmentalists are against it just because they asked how you ensure that the energy does actually come from renewable resources. Did you read a call to "ban the cables" anywhere? No.

The Energy Commissioner said that it was a good question, and he is right. You don't just lay down a cable and just hope that the power sent through it is renewable. You need to put procedures in place to guarantee it, otherwise you have just wasted your money.

Power so great it can only be used for good/evil (4, Insightful)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650088)

'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:Power so great it can only be used for good/evi (2, Insightful)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650366)

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.

Issue of storing electricity (1)

Uzull (16705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650108)

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? (3, Interesting)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 4 years ago | (#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? (4, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Why outsource? (2, Informative)

edgr (781723) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650432)

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

Sandstorms anyone? (2, Insightful)

boojumbadger (949542) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650126)

Wouldn't it be a little expensive to replace all the panels every time they get sandblasted by a windstorm?

Re:Sandstorms anyone? (3, Informative)

Zumbs (1241138) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650246)

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.

If just 1% of the Sahara (3, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650136)

...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?

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650208)

It doesn't work that way. The radiation still travels through the atmosphere, energy does not simply get sucked up and disappear. The Sahara sand also reflects and absorbs this energy, just as the solar panels reflect and absorb it. The energy arrives on Earth and stays here, it may be changed into another form of energy, but it does not go away.

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650266)

The Sahara is already seeing a massive climatic change. The rainfall has increased substantially due to global warming, and is continuing to do so. This might not actually work as well as planned. On the other hand, there will be a massive social benefit if north Africa, particularly the Sahel, become more green. Don't remember exactly when, but National Geographic had a very readable article on that about a year ago.

And, given the true efficiency of solar cells, it's not going to cool a whole lot. The huge change will likely be in the soil shaded by the cells retaining more water, which will allow more vegitation, reversing the desertification.

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650296)

I know that all over Europe people are beginning to heat water with the sun, and it's pretty efficient. But in Sahara there is no water. Also, if you take energy with solar panels, or you take it with heated water, what is the difference?

You do have a good point, and they should maybe make a few estimates --- solar panels versus water heating.
But, whatever the way of turning sunlight into electricity, we still need the cables from Africa to Europe.

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650304)

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.

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650390)

So ... you're telling us that these solar panels will suddenly make the Sahara less hot, causing more clouds to form over it, cause more rain on the desert and possibly make it a more habitable place.

I'm having trouble seeing the downside to it, but maybe I'm just not that much of a pessimist

Re:If just 1% of the Sahara (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

But the TERRORISTS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650168)

No, seriously. It would be very hard to guard as vast an area as 1% of the Sahara against petty vandalism and people desperate to steal some valuable resources... note the poor who tap oil pipelines in Nigeria, for instance, despite it being suicidally dangerous (and theft). This would be an incredibly soft target waiting to be hit by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or whatever their full name is called. This... isn't an easy problem to solve.

Re:But the TERRORISTS! (1)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650300)

Dust build up and sandstorms are likely to cause more damage than petty thieves and t'rr'rists. Also less easy to solve.

C&C style tesla towers powered by the sea of solar panels could stop trespassers. A Saharan Storm, however, doesn't fear death; and the only thing that doesn't fear a Saharan storm is a saharan... wait, where am I? Too much spice.

Is it really a Win-Win deal? (1)

bestofmed (1838940) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650174)

I hope this time would be really a Win-Win situation. For years relations between Europe and the MENA region were always some form of exploitation; the French wanted even to make Algeria an integral part of their country. May be this is a new start. I think such projects will contribute more to the development of the region and more importantly will strengthen economic ties between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. All I wish is that Europe will learn from its past and will do some pressure on existing regimes in North Africa; continuing the current policy of supporting them will not help stabilize the region for the long term. A new form of colonialism will not be beneficial to any one and can be disastrous. The deal needs to be done with the local population in mind. Development means better life, population conscience and consequently better stability and security. Compared to the Middle East, North Africa is for sure more stable and even economically more competitive (e.g. Tunisia is the most competitive country in Africa, even better than Italy and Portugal). I think both parties can put again the Mediterranean in the map as a powerful economic region in a world dominated more and more by Asia and the Americas.

And the US...? (1, Flamebait)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650278)

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 this much money.

Re:And the US...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650378)

Our environmental laws and NIMBY attitudes (and the not in my soon-to-be back yard attitudes coming from developers) stop almost every alternative in our deserts, plus thanks to complex environmental laws, areas with rocks high in arsenic that naturally pollute the groundwater, anyone who digs or even as much as kicks a rock in such an area will be tasked with cleaning up the "environmental disaster" they created, and will be fined and tasked with cleaning it up until it's no longer a health risk. (ie, never)

this is why our basin an range province goes largely untouched when it comes to things like mineral extraction, and building alternative power stations. Also, you have to assume that the monopoly here in the west will go with it. PG&E was told not to build any more coal fired plants and given money to build alternative energy stations here in california(solar, etc)

they went ahead and greenlighted 15 more coal and oil powered plants as soon as they got said money.

We have too many restrictions here. I imagine europe does too, which is why on top of the geographical reasons, they also use said countries because of lax restrictions.

The US will never see alternative power stations until it's too late. We have this insane tendency to backpedal more than moving forward. We're just getting fiber internet, which the monopolies have stopped rolling out because they feel that it's enough for them. (aka, the costs were getting close to the profits)

Sand to Power (1)

physburn (1095481) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650338)

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 (2, Interesting)

dreadlord76 (562584) | more than 4 years ago | (#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...

The 1% (1)

Thyran (1378783) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650410)

The 1% is indeed just one of those figures. Apparently, the Sahara Desert measures over 9,400,000 square km(3,630,000 sq miles). That 1% would be more than twice the size of The Netherlands to cover in solar panels.

First they came ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650440)

... for our people.
Then they came for our minerals.
Then they came for our water.
Then then came for our sunlight.

Oh Lord, what have we done that you visit these plagues on us?

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