Environment Forum

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

Question: What is the current status of the project?
: We agreed to move forward with the project and want to go forward step-by-step towards its implementation. But obviously neither the EU nor the Arab League will be the principal players but rather private investors. Our task for this project is to create the political framework — for example with setting up of the feed-in tariffs, ensuring the infrastructure is built and ensuring that the renewable energy can be transported to Europe. The political framework can also make it possible to expedite the approvals process. But what is also very important is that the energy produced is also available for countries in the region. For example, Morocco can take advantage of its solar and wind conditions on the Atlantic coast to build solar power plants or wind energy parks to provide energy for its domestic market and to sell energy abroad as well. Even countries such as Algeria, which has fossil fuel reserves, could also use the sun belt for solar thermal power for some of their energy needs — and prolong their fossil fuel reserves.

Question: Is there not risk involved in such large-scale investment in a region with a potential for political instability?
It’s a cooperation that will contribute towards diversifying energy sources, geographically and in terms of energy sources. It’s a truly fascinating project because it’s a win-win for everyone. And the third winner will be the people and institutions that finance this project. Neither the EU nor the countries in the south are capable of financing this on their own. So the question is: can third-parties bringing financing be involved. Energy security is an important issue everywhere. There are energy sources we have today that at times have been somewhat at risk. There’s no contradiction in saying that it’s important to diversify a country’s energy source as well as diversifying the types of energy it receives. It’s not that there is no risk whatsoever but it’s important to keep in mind that there are also some risk factors for other sources of energy that we are now importing.

Hot Air From Weathermen

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

A general view of a chemical factory during dawn in Xiangfan, Hubei province, November 28, 2007. Rapidly growing China is emerging as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from factories, farms and vehicles blamed for climate change. REUTERS/StringerOften when seeing anti-environmental commentary about global warming in the media, I feel like the first question I would like to ask these commentators is: “Why do you deny that carbon dioxide (CO2), which is increasing in an unprecedented way in the atmosphere, is a greenhouse gas?”

If they were to start their answer: “I don’t deny it …” I would think “Good, we’ve made some progress.” However, as I think would often be the case, if they start their answer: “Because …” we should be ready to pounce on the ensuing nonsense.

Planet sick; do the doctors care?

Children run on a dried lakebed in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad June 5, 2008. The United Nations urged the world on Thursday to kick an all-consuming addiction to carbon dioxide and said everyone must take steps to fight climate change. World Environment Day, conceived in 1972, is the United Nation’s principal day to mark global green issues and aims to give a human face to environmental problems and solutions. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder (INDIA)    The UN’s climate surgery opening hours this week in Bonn, Germany, are 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm.

    Several times they’ve finished early — lack of demand?

    “That’s good. Often they just go on and on. Next week it may be a bit later,” a UN spokesperson told me.

    Welcome to a new round of talks to find a successor to the UN-administered Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Bonn is the second of eight meetings of 190 countries and 2,000 people or so to agree a new climate pact by December 2009.

Bicycling in New York: room for improvement

A recent trip to bicyle-peppered cities Copenhagen and Amsterdam got me thinking about the pedal possibilities in U.S. cities. Alas, New York, the country’s biggest city, has long way to go make biking easier, and that seems true in many other cities in the world’s largest motor fuel consumer.

As gasolinecope.jpg nears $4.00 a gallon throughout the country one might think that U.S. commuters would be jumping on their bikes. Evidently the prices aren’t high enough yet.

Here in New York, it’s Bike Moamster.jpgnth and though I live just 7 miles from my office in Times Square, I haven’t two-wheeled it in yet, though I did for years. Likely, I won’t any time soon because fighting traffic across the avenues isn’t appealing anymore.

Galapagos bird brains survive wind turbines

Galapagos wind turbine — courtesy E8 group of power generatorsThree giant wind turbines are helping the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean towards a goal of eliminating use of fossil fuels by 2015 — and no birds have been killed in a six-month pilot scheme despite worries in many nations that big blades and bird brains don’t mix.

The Galapagos are home to mocking birds, finches, petrels, blue-footed boobies, doves, albatrosses and other exotic species many of which only live on the islands. Studies of Galapagos birds helped British 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin work out his theory of evolution.

“In six months of pilot operations there have been no bird kills,” said Melinda Kimble of the U.N. Foundation, a sponsor of the $10.8 million project led by power producers including American Electric Power and also backed by Ecuador’s government.