green electricity produced by solar panels in the Sahara has been hailed as a solution to the crisis of climate change
the summer of 1913 in a field south of Cairo, on the eastern bank of the Nile, an American engineer named Frank Shuman was before a meeting of the colonial elite of Egypt including the British Consul General Lord Kitchener, and connects to the new invention. Gallons of water spilled from a pump, saturating the ground with your feet. Behind him were rows and rows of curved mirrors high on metal supports, each headed toward the sun fierce head. As the sun's rays strike the mirror, is reflected in a thin glass tube containing water. The water now turned to superheated steam, which causes a pressure sufficient to operate the pumps used to irrigate the surrounding fields, where the crop was grown Egyptian cotton profitable. It was an invention, said Shuman, who could help Egypt to be much less dependent on imported coal at a high cost mines of Great Britain.
"The human race must finally utilize solar energy directly or return to barbarism," Shuman wrote in a letter to Scientific American the following year. But the outbreak of World War I only a few months after abruptly ended his dream and solar collectors are quickly broken for scrap, the metal that is used for war. Barbarism, apparently, had prevailed.
Almost a century later, a convoy of cars with air sweeps the suburb of Maadi - where Shuman had demonstrated its solar panels in the making - continues south for 90 km Kuraymat floor, uninhabited desert near the town of Beni Suef. The delegation of high-level international business leaders, politicians, financiers and scientists came to see a new plant "hybrid" that uses the power of natural gas and solar panels to generate electricity. Before coming to the coaches of the gates of secure facilities, the parabolic trough 6000 - all six feet high with a total area of ??130,000 square meters - and are visible from the road device. Although the panels are only seventh in the plant capacity of electricity generation of 150 MW, the Egyptian government, which led him to develop the site since 1997, the delegation hopes to demonstrate that the desert sun - no fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil -. to be used not only to generate more power throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), but mostly by residents of Europe, also
Gerhard Knies, a German particle physicist, was the first person to estimate the amount of solar energy to meet human demand for electricity. In 1986, in direct response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he scribbled some numbers and concluded the following remarks: in just six hours, the world's deserts receive more energy from the sun that humans consume in a year. If even a small fraction of this energy could be exploited - a desert area of ??the Sahara to the size of Wales, in theory, the power of Europe - Knies we could go beyond dirty and dangerous fuels forever. Echoing frustrations Schuman, Knies later asked if "we really, as a species, so stupid" not to make better use of this resource. Over the next two decades, worked - often alone - to promote this idea in the public consciousness
The culmination of their efforts is "Desertec", an initiative led mainly by Germany aims to provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050 through an extensive network of parks and solar Wind spreads throughout the MENA region and the connection to continental Europe through special high voltage power transmission cables, which loses only 3% of the electricity they are for 1000 km. The total cost of attempts to build the project was estimated at ? 400 billion (£ 342bn).
far Desertec seen by many observers as little more than a mirage in the sand, the fantasy of dreamers well-intentioned plan. After all, technology, financial and political security, each on its own, it seems totally insurmountable. But in the last two years, the initiative has received strong support from some of the biggest names of companies in Germany, a country already leads Europe in relation to the adoption and development of renewable energy, including solar. In the fall of 2009, an "international" consortium formed Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) with major companies such as E. ON, Munich Re, Siemens and Deutsche Bank, all signature as "shareholders". The announcement in Germany earlier this year, following the disaster in Fukushima, which was to accelerate the total elimination of nuclear energy suddenly had the idea of ??Desertec the greatest momentum. With the faltering international negotiations and warnings of more severe climate change - last month the International Energy Agency warned that the world is ready for irreversible climate change can not begin to reduce emissions carbon within five years - apparently now is the right time for an idea of ??the scale and ambition.
last month at its annual conference in Cairo, Dii has confirmed to the world that the first phase of Desertec plan is scheduled to begin in Morocco next year with the construction of a fleet of 500 MW solar near the desert town of Ouarzazate. The proposed 12m km would act as a "reference design" that, as specific projects in Egypt in Kuraymat help to convince investors and politicians that the same firm could be repeated throughout the MENA region in the coming years and decades.
"It's all systems go to Morocco," said Paul van Son, CEO of Dii, the visiting delegates. The talks, he added, - given its proximity shared by, with Morocco, the Western European network - already underway with Tunisia and Algeria to join the "first phase" of Desertec. Countries such as Egypt, Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia should join the "expansion" phase from 2020, when additional transmission lines have been established across the Mediterranean and through Turkey, with the company as a whole to be financially self-sufficient in 2035.
Van Son SWATS away from any conversation Desertec project is built on a precarious basis of the presumption, ingenuity and hope. "Yes, the current global financial crisis has clearly not been very helpful, but everyone also realizes that the dependence on fossil fuels creates vulnerability," he said.
also rejects the idea that Desertec is even a hint of neo-colonialism. Earlier this year such sentiments were raised by Daniel Ayuk Egbe Mbi the African Network for solar energy. "Many Africans are skeptical [about Desertec]," he said. "[Europeans] make promises, but at the end of the day, to their engineers, they bring their equipment and leave. This is a new form of exploitation of resources, as in the past. "Others have based Mena has made similar remarks, no less than the first generated electricity are desperately needed by local people in their fight against poverty.
"When the idea of ??Desertec first announced it was anger and irritation of the Arab League," admits Van Son. "I did not understand at first, but explained that members can benefit too. He explained that it would be a cooperative process and became more relaxed. It's a win-win for everyone, he said. The relationship is positive now. "
Desertec must also be supported, its proponents argue, because it will improve energy security by helping to diversify supply. Today, Van Son said, Europeans are vulnerable to the "energy weapon called", ie when a country rich in energy, preventing your neighbors to restrict or deny relief supplies. I think that Russia and gas, he said. Or a terrorist attack on a pipeline. Desertec help dilute these threats.Hans Josef Fell, a representative of the Green Party of Germany, also in Cairo for the conference. "There are fears in Germany to pay for green electricity directly from North Africa will be a heavy burden on our consumers," he said. Germany has the highest electricity prices in Europe partly due to a wave of renewable energy installations across the country.
Europe, including Germany, seems to know more about what you want from Desertec. But what of its partners Mena? Amrane Obaid, a member of the Board of Directors of the Moroccan Agency for solar energy, the government agency responsible for overseeing the first floor of Desertec, says his country has its own plans for the electricity produced in the plant - and the other four will be in 2020 - not necessarily in sales to Europe.
"In the year 2020, we expect a doubling of electricity consumption in Morocco, as the population and living standards grow," he said. "Currently, we are 97% dependent on foreign energy is increasingly untenable. But now we try to have the capacity to 42% renewable electricity by 2020. We will build additional capacity beyond that Morocco needed if someone wants, but we need much of the electricity generated by these projects. "
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