30 November, 2007
I was quite surprised this week when I attended a conference organised by the Greens in the European Parliament and saw them do the lobbying for a grand solar industrial project which I think still has a lot of uncertainties and even environmental dangers.
The DESERTEC project [see Wikipedia FR] aims at building huge concentrating solar thermal power plants in the Middle East and North African (MENA) desert regions and then transporting the electricity produced via high-voltage direct-current transmission lines to Europe. The project could also provide water security for the EUMENA regions and be a lever for peace and development in those areas.
German green MEP Rebecca Harms, who hosted the “Clean Power from Deserts” conference, said that the Greens “should start to think big” when it comes to renewables in general and solar in particular. She got the support from other MEPs such as Anders Wijkman and Vittorio Prodi for this initiative.
The DESERTEC project is led by a consortium called Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) which is an initiative of the Club of Rome. German technology group SCHOTT (the producer of solar receivers) has put its weight behind the solar farms idea.
Let’s be clear. I believe solar power is our best card for the future in a traditional-energy-scarce world (in view of peak energy and climate chaos), but I would like to see a few more questions being answered before embarking on a huge technology-fix experiment of what is basically a crisis of our industrial lifestyle due to the global population explosion.
Here are some of the questions I have:
- solar power is renewable but what about the materials needed to build this huge park of solar farms (steel, glass, concrete…)? Should we not calculate the whole life-cycle of this project?
- What about the environmental effects of these large solar farms in the deserts? Could there be dangers for the ecosystems there? Has there been an independent environmental impact study?
- what is the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of such a huge project?
- what about Europe’s energy resilience? If we would become dependent on these solar desert farms in the future, what about potential terrorist attacks or the danger of a solar OPEC?
- should Europe invest in this MENA supergrid or in smart decentralised electricity production?
In conclusion: this might indeed be the future of our energy and water security but before launching ourselves into it, let’s make sure we do not repeat the historical mistakes we once made with nuclear which was also once hailed as the beginning of a sustainable energy future.
- TREC: White Paper “Clean Power from Deserts”
- TREC: Action Plan presented in the European Parliament “An Apollo Programme for Energy, Water and Climate Security”
- Yahoo Tech Group: an interesting critical contribution on the DESERTEC project