Despite the high oil revenues reaped from hydrocarbon resources and their spillover effects on all oil and non-oil producing countries, most MENA region economies suffer from structural problems and fragile political systems, preventing them from adopting effective politico-economic transformations.
The capital was available, but investments were typically misdirected to form in all cases ‘rentier’ economies, with Arab countries economies remaining very undiversiﬁed. They primarily rely on oil and low value-added commodity products such as cement, alumina, fertilisers, and phosphates.
Demographic transitions present a significant challenge: the population increased from 100 million in 1960 to about 400 million in 2011. Sixty per cent are under 25 years old.
Urbanisation had increased from 38 per cent in 1970 to 65 per cent in 2010.
Rural development being not a priority; the increasing rural migration into the cities searching for jobs will put even more strain on all existing undeveloped infrastructures.
Current economic development patterns will increasingly strain the ability of Arab governments to provide decent-paying jobs. For instance, youth unemployment in the region is currently double the world average.
The demand for food, water, housing, education, transportation, electricity, and other municipal services will rise with higher learning institutions proliferating; the quality of education below average does not lead to employment.
Power demand in Saudi Arabia, for example, is rising at a fast rate of over 7 per cent per year.
Amman, Cairo, and other Arab cities gradually lose their agriculture space because of the suburbs’ expansion. Gated communities and high-rise ofﬁce buildings are sprawling while ignoring low-income housing.
In the meantime, the real world feels the planet is in danger of an environmental collapse; economists increasingly advise putting the planet on its balance sheets. For over a Century of Burning Fossil Fuels, to propel our cars, power our businesses, and keep the lights on in our homes, we never envisioned that we will paying this price.
In effect, a recent economic report on biodiversity indicates that economic practice will have to change because the world is finite.
For decades many have been aware of this reality. However, it is a giant leap forward for current economic thinking to acknowledge that Climate change is a symptom of a larger issue. The threat to life support systems from the plunder and demise of the natural environment is a reality.
Society, some governments, and industry are recognising that climate change can be controlled by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, electric cars and reducing emissions from every means of production.
Talking about replacing fossil fuels would mean a potential reduction of the abovementioned revenues.
However, would the spreading of solar farms all over the Sahara desert constitute compensation for the losses?
The world’s most forbidding deserts could be the best places on Earth for harvesting solar power – the most abundant and clean source of energy we have. Deserts are spacious, relatively flat, rich in silicon – the raw material for the semiconductors from which solar cells are made — and never short of sunlight. In fact, the ten largest solar plants around the world are all located in deserts or dry regions.
Researchers imagine it might be possible to transform the world’s largest desert, the Sahara, into a giant solar farm, capable of meeting four times the world’s current energy demand. Blueprints have been drawn up for projects in Tunisia and Morocco that would supply electricity for millions of households in Europe.
While the black surfaces of solar panels absorb most of the sunlight that reaches them, only a fraction (around 15%) of that incoming energy gets converted to electricity. The rest is returned to the environment as heat. The panels are usually much darker than the ground they cover, so a vast expanse of solar cells will absorb a lot of additional energy and emit it as heat, affecting the climate.
If these effects were only local, they might not matter in a sparsely populated and barren desert. But the scale of the installations that would be needed to make a dent in the world’s fossil energy demand would be vast, covering thousands of square kilometres. Heat re-emitted from an area this size will be redistributed by the flow of air in the atmosphere, having regional and even global effects on the climate.
A greener Sahara
A 2018 study used a climate model to simulate the effects of lower albedo on the land surface of deserts caused by installing massive solar farms. Albedo is a measure of how well surfaces reflect sunlight. Sand, for example, is much more reflective than a solar panel and so has a higher albedo.
The model revealed that when the size of the solar farm reaches 20% of the total area of the Sahara, it triggers a feedback loop. Heat emitted by the darker solar panels (compared to the highly reflective desert soil) creates a steep temperature difference between the land and the surrounding oceans that ultimately lowers surface air pressure and causes moist air to rise and condense into raindrops. With more monsoon rainfall, plants grow and the desert reflects less of the sun’s energy, since vegetation absorbs light better than sand and soil. With more plants present, more water is evaporated, creating a more humid environment that causes vegetation to spread.
This scenario might seem fanciful, but studies suggest that a similar feedback loop kept much of the Sahara green during the African Humid Period, which only ended 5,000 years ago.
So, a giant solar farm could generate ample energy to meet global demand and simultaneously turn one of the most hostile environments on Earth into a habitable oasis. Sounds perfect, right?
Not quite. In a recent study, we used an advanced Earth system model to closely examine how Saharan solar farms interact with the climate. Our model takes into account the complex feedbacks between the interacting spheres of the world’s climate – the atmosphere, the ocean and the land and its ecosystems. It showed there could be unintended effects in remote parts of the land and ocean that offset any regional benefits over the Sahara itself.
Drought in the Amazon, cyclones in Vietnam
Covering 20% of the Sahara with solar farms raises local temperatures in the desert by 1.5°C according to our model. At 50% coverage, the temperature increase is 2.5°C. This warming is eventually spread around the globe by atmosphere and ocean movement, raising the world’s average temperature by 0.16°C for 20% coverage, and 0.39°C for 50% coverage. The global temperature shift is not uniform though – the polar regions would warm more than the tropics, increasing sea ice loss in the Arctic. This could further accelerate warming, as melting sea ice exposes dark water which absorbs much more solar energy.
This massive new heat source in the Sahara reorganises global air and ocean circulation, affecting precipitation patterns around the world. The narrow band of heavy rainfall in the tropics, which accounts for more than 30% of global precipitation and supports the rainforests of the Amazon and Congo Basin, shifts northward in our simulations. For the Amazon region, this causes droughts as less moisture arrives from the ocean. Roughly the same amount of additional rainfall that falls over the Sahara due to the surface-darkening effects of solar panels is lost from the Amazon. The model also predicts more frequent tropical cyclones hitting North American and East Asian coasts.
Some important processes are still missing from our model, such as dust blown from large deserts. Saharan dust, carried on the wind, is a vital source of nutrients for the Amazon and the Atlantic Ocean. So a greener Sahara could have an even bigger global effect than our simulations suggested.
We are only beginning to understand the potential consequences of establishing massive solar farms in the world’s deserts. Solutions like this may help society transition from fossil energy, but Earth system studies like ours underscore the importance of considering the numerous coupled responses of the atmosphere, oceans and land surface when examining their benefits and risks.
It has, in the recent past, been question of supplying Electricity from North Africa with notably the quickly miscarried project of Desertec. Could there be a revived or rebirth of the same or potentially the inception of the same? Would this explain the long and quiet convalescence of the Algerian president in Germany? In the meantime, kinimodin his WP page, wonders whether Energy from North Africa: h2 or hvdc?
The German energy demand is currently only covered to 17 % from renewable sources, albeit with an increasing tendency of half a percent per year (statista.de).
So 83 % are still missing for a complete decarbonization. The majority of this, namely 71 % of the total requirement, is currently covered by imports (weltenergierat.de). To do this, writes pv-magazine.de, we have to increase our photovoltaic area tenfold and our wind energy generation four times – a goal that many consider unattainable due to the acceptance problems of Germans.
One way out might be to import electricity and hydrogen on a large scale in the future instead of oil and gas. Then the gigantic solar fields would not cover German meadows, but Spanish, North African or Saudi Arabian desert areas, a win-win solution. Another advantage are supposedly the costs: since the capacity factor in Germany is only around 0.1, i.e. a 1 kW system only produces as much electricity in 10 hours as it would produce with one hour of full power, this factor in North Africa is 0.2 or higher (globalsolaratlas.com). For the same annual amount of energy, only half as much solar panel space is required, which is why solar power produced there costs only about half – or less. The countries there would have a slight additional income (which of course would increase the energy price again a little) and we would be rid of some of our energy worries.
There are roughly two paths for this solution:
Electrolytically produced hydrogen, that is either liquefied directly or converted to ammonia with atmospheric nitrogen and then liquefied – which requires slightly less complex transport ships. It can also be transported by pipeline.
Direct transmission of the solar power, perhaps buffered with storage for the hours after sunset, via HVDC lines.
What about the costs?
Renewable electricity is considerably cheaper in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) and southern Europe than here. In Portugal, solar power projects for 1.12 euro cents / kWh were agreed this year. In 2030, solar electricity costs are likely to be well below 1 c / kWh. In Germany, the electricity production costs for solar power are already below 4 c / kWh (solarify.de). In its position paper, the Federal Association of the New Energy Industry expects solar power production costs in Germany to be around 2.5 c / kWh, with storage adding another 1 ± 0.5 c.
Electricity can be transmitted with high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines over thousands of kilometers with little loss. In China there are some very long connections that bring wind power from the west to the industrial zones in the east. Starting in 2027, Singapore will receive a fifth of its electricity from a gigantic Australian solar field via the Suncable project – via a 3700 km long HVDC submarine cable. This electricity is supposed to cost 3.4 UScent / kWh. A storage facility in Australia will then still provide electricity in the evening hours (Forbes).
Generally, a 3000 km line adds 1.5 – 2.5 c / kWh to the electricity price (EIA study).
This means that the transport costs for MENA electricity are higher than the corresponding doubling of the German solar area (in 2030).
The cost of hydrogen consists of the cost of electricity, the cost of the electrolysis, which is mainly determined by the high investment for the electrolysers, and the transport costs.
For 2030 we can estimate electricity costs of 1 c / kWh for the south and 2.5 c / kWh for Germany. Storage costs of 1 c / kWh that may be reasonable are incurred everywhere.
The electrolyser costs in 2030 are given by Prognos as 2 – 8 c / kWh, in the EWI study with 1.5 – 2.4 c / kWh. They should be the same for all manufacturing regions.
According to the EWI study, the transport method is crucial for transport costs. If an existing pipeline can be rededicated and used for hydrogen, as is the case for southern Spain, they are low at around 0.4 c / kWh. However, if a ship has to be used, they rise to around 3 c / kWh because of the liquefaction required for this – or the conversion into ammonia and the subsequent liquefaction and the use of specialized ships.
With a little optimism we will end up with a hydrogen price of around 5 c/kWh for local production, around 4 c/kWh for southern Spain (pipeline transport) and around 6 c/kW for MENA production.
Electricity via HVDC would cost around 3.5 c/kWh, similar to the Sunline project, which roughly corresponds to the price for locally generated electricity.
Facit: Electricity from the south is not cheaper for us than local electricity because the electricity transport eats up the cost advantage. For H2 we can save a small cost advantage with pipeline transport if the pipeline already exists and only needs to be rededicated. In the case of ship transport, however, the hydrogen becomes considerably more expensive.
Since we will need a lot of electricity and also hydrogen for the decarbonisation of the economy, it may be necessary to obtain electricity, hydrogen or both from the south due to competition for land. Here, southern Spain is the cheapest export region, as both electricity and hydrogen transport infrastructure already exist. Electricity from North Africa would best be transported to Europe via HVDC and only converted into hydrogen there, because the transport costs for hydrogen by ship would be higher.
Hybrid technology trial aims for smooth integration of renewable energy by Professional Engineering is an eye opener into what is currently going on behind the scene.
4 December 2020
A new hybrid system will inject or absorb energy from the transmission network to maintain voltage levels as renewable power levels fluctuate.
The technology, being tested in a new year-long trial at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, could aid the smooth transition from conventional energy generation to renewable power by compensating for variable sources such as wind and solar. SP Energy Networks, the University of Strathclyde and the Technical University of Denmark are also involved in the trial.
The system combines a static compensator (statcom) with a synchronous condenser. The result can deliver a combination of fast reaction, spinning capacity and short circuit control, injecting or absorbing energy to keep voltage levels within the required limits. It will provide a spinning reserve over a few seconds until other resources, such as batteries or reserve generators, can be brought online.
Electricity regulator Ofgem funded the Phoenix project, which started in 2018. The outcome of the project, including the new trial, is expected to contribute cumulative savings of over 62,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to the electricity use of over 6,000 homes.
Hitachi ABB Power Grids installed the hybrid solution, a strategic 275 kilovolt (kV) substation on SP Energy Networks’ transmission network near Glasgow. The project partners will evaluate the installation’s performance over the year-long trial.
“While power stations produce a steady and constant flow of energy, renewable energy generators like wind and solar can fluctuate as they respond to different weather conditions,” said Niklas Persson, managing director of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ grid integration.
“This pioneering hybrid solution combines existing technology with an innovative control system that will enable a reliable and stable energy supply, while accelerating the UK towards a carbon neutral future.”
Colin Taylor, director of processes and technology at SP Energy Networks, said: “I’m very proud that we have been able to drive forward with the Phoenix project this year, despite the recent pandemic and its challenges.
“This world-first innovative project has just reached a key milestone following the commencement of its live trial. Technology like this allows us to accommodate even more renewable generation on our electricity system while maintaining levels of system stability and resilience.”
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
In these difficult days, Record new renewable energy capacity this year and next: IEA by Nina Chestney sheds some light in the unending and stuffy tunnel that the world’s economy finds itself stuck-in. Wind turbines lining the roads, roof mounted solar panels generating energy for all are more and more visible even in the MENA region, oil exporters or not.
LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Record levels of new renewable energy capacity are set to come on stream this year and next, while fossil fuel capacity will fall due to an economic slump and the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report.
In its annual renewables outlook, the IEA said new additions of renewables capacity worldwide would increase by 4% from last year to a record 198 gigawatts (GW) this year.
This means renewables will account for almost 90% of the increase in total power capacity worldwide this year.
Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the construction of plants and manufacturing activity has ramped up again, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved, the IEA said.
Electricity generated by renewables will increase by 7% globally this year, despite a 5% annual drop in global energy demand, the largest since World War Two.
Next year, renewable capacity additions are on track for a rise of almost 10%, which would be the fastest growth since 2015.
“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
Policymakers need to support the strong momentum behind renewables growth and if policy uncertainties are addressed, renewable energy capacity additions could reach 271 GW in 2022,the IEA said.
In 2025, renewables are set to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide, supplying one third of the world’s electricity, and ending coal’s five decades as the topglobal power source, the report said.
Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Mark Potter
Originally posted on globalrhythmz: The music Aziza Brahim makes reflects both the sorrow and the hope of these people. She grew up in one of those camps in the Algerian desert, along with thousands of other Saharwai who were removed from their homes in the Western Sahara. The refugee camp was the place that formed…
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