Should we turn the Sahara Desert into a huge solar farm?

Should we turn the Sahara Desert into a huge solar farm?

Amin Al-Habaibeh, Nottingham Trent University

Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be. Aside from a few oases there is little vegetation, and most of the world’s largest desert is covered with rocks, sand and sand dunes. The Saharan sun is powerful enough to provide Earth with significant solar energy.

The statistics are mind-boggling. If the desert were a country, it would be fifth biggest in the world – it’s larger than Brazil and slightly smaller than China and the US. Each square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy per year, according to NASA estimates. Given the Sahara covers about 9m km², that means the total energy available – that is, if every inch of the desert soaked up every drop of the sun’s energy – is more than 22 billion gigawatt hours (GWh) a year.

This is again a big number that requires some context: it means that a hypothetical solar farm that covered the entire desert would produce 2,000 times more energy than even the largest power stations in the world, which generate barely 100,000 GWh a year. In fact, its output would be equivalent to more than 36 billion barrels of oil per day – that’s around five barrels per person per day. In this scenario, the Sahara could potentially produce more than seven times the electricity requirements of Europe, with almost no carbon emissions.

Global horizontal irradiation, a measure of how much solar power received per year.
Global Solar Atlas / World Bank

What’s more, the Sahara also has the advantage of being very close to Europe. The shortest distance between North Africa and Europe is just 15km at the Strait of Gibraltar. But even much further distances, across the main width of the Mediterranean, are perfectly practical – after all, the world’s longest underwater power cable runs for nearly 600km between Norway and the Netherlands.

Over the past decade or so, scientists (including me and my colleagues) have looked at how desert solar could meet increasing local energy demand and eventually power Europe too – and how this might work in practice. And these academic insights have been translated in serious plans. The highest profile attempt was Desertec, a project announced in 2009 that quickly acquired lots of funding from various banks and energy firms before largely collapsing when most investors pulled out five years later, citing high costs. Such projects are held back by a variety of political, commercial and social factors, including a lack of rapid development in the region.

The planet Tatooine from the Star Wars movies was filmed in southern Tunisia.
Amin Al-Habaibeh, Author provided

More recent proposals include the TuNur project in Tunisia, which aims to power more than 2m European homes, or the Noor Complex Solar Power Plant in Morocco which also aims to export energy to Europe.

Two technologies

There are two practical technologies at the moment to generate solar electricity within this context: concentrated solar power (CSP) and regular photovoltaic solar panels. Each has its pros and cons.

Concentrated solar power uses lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy in one spot, which becomes incredibly hot. This heat then generates electricity through conventional steam turbines. Some systems use molten salt to store energy, allowing electricity to also be produced at night.

A concentrated solar plant near Seville, Spain. The mirrors focus the sun’s energy on the tower in the centre.
Novikov Aleksey / shutterstock

CSP seems to be more suitable to the Sahara due to the direct sun, lack of clouds and high temperatures which makes it more efficient. However the lenses and mirrors could be covered by sand storms, while the turbine and steam heating systems remain complex technologies. But the most important drawback of the technology is its use of scarce water resources.

Photovoltaic solar panels instead convert the sun’s energy to electricity directly using semiconductors. It is the most common type of solar power as it can be either connected to the grid or distributed for small-scale use on individual buildings. Also, it provides reasonable output in cloudy weather.

But one of the drawbacks is that when the panels get too hot their efficiency drops. This isn’t ideal in a part of the world where summer temperatures can easily exceed 45℃ in the shade, and given that demand for energy for air conditioning is strongest during the hottest parts of the day. Another problem is that sand storms could cover the panels, further reducing their efficiency.

Both technologies might need some amount of water to clean the mirrors and panels depending on the weather, which also makes water an important factor to consider. Most researchers suggest integrating the two main technologies to develop a hybrid system.

Just a small portion of the Sahara could produce as much energy as the entire continent of Africa does at present. As solar technology improves, things will only get cheaper and more efficient. The Sahara may be inhospitable for most plants and animals, but it could bring sustainable energy to life across North Africa – and beyond.


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Amin Al-Habaibeh, Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Demand for a “Western” Education around the World

Demand for a “Western” Education around the World

Increased demand for a “western” education around the world has reshaped whom these institutions serve, by Alan Wechsler in The Atlantic of June 5, 2017.
Wikipedia defines an international school as a school that promotes international education, in an international environment, either by adopting a curriculum such as that of the International Baccalaureate, Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations, or by following a national curriculum different from that of the school’s country . . . .

Demand for a “Western” education around the world

The International-School Surge

After losing two jobs in the Denver area due to budget cuts, the school librarian Jennifer Alevy found a new direction for her education career in 2011: an international school in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The origins of today’s international schools can be traced to 1924, but they’ve grown exponentially in the past 20 years. Originally created to ensure that expatriates and diplomats could get a “western” education for their children while working in far-flung countries, international schools have found a new purpose: educating the children of wealthy locals so those kids can compete for spots in western colleges—and, eventually, positions at multinational companies.

This dramatic change means increased opportunities for American teachers abroad—and, potentially, increased competition in the U.S. from a new demographic of English-fluent and cosmopolitan young people from all over the world.

Today, Alevy is the coordinator of library services at the American International School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which caters to Vietnamese students. The school, which was founded in 2006, has devoted resources to its library that Alevy rarely saw back in the states. “I feel fortunate that the school I work in has seen the value in the library and librarians,” she said. “I am really excited for the opportunity to work with three other librarians. I have not had that chance in a long time.”

Across the world, teachers educated in America, Great Britain, Australia, and other English-speaking countries are being imported in droves to teach the kids of wealthy or even middle-class families of emerging nations in Asia, the Middle East, and other developing regions.

“The majority of the world wants a grounding in English,” said Bruce McWilliams, the executive vice president of International School Services, a New Jersey-based company that recruits teachers for international jobs.

The growth of international schools is staggering. Twenty years ago, there were only about 1,000 English-language international schools worldwide, according to the U.K.-based ISC Research. Most of the students in these schools were the kids of expat families working abroad—diplomats, journalists, NGO staff, technicians, and mid-level corporate types.

Today, there are more than 8,000 international schools, serving 4.5 million students with 420,000 teachers. And 80 percent of students are actually from the school’s host country. And, according to ISC, demand is rising—in the next 10 years, experts expect the number of international schools to double to more than 16,000 schools and 8.75 million students worldwide.

“I wanted my kids to be Chinese, to know who they are, but to learn with a global perspective.”

Mitsuko Sakakibara of Japan is a typical parent. Her son Leon, 8, attends the Hokkaido International School in Niseko. “I would like my son to have an international environment education to build his mind as a global citizen from a young age,” she said, explaining she didn’t think he would get that in a Japanese school. “English would be the basic tool to communicate smoothly … and also help to have more choice to decide where to study or work.”

The United Arab Emirates and China now have the most international schools—about 550 English-speaking schools in each, according to ISC—but places as India, Vietnam, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia are also seeing huge increases. More than 20 cities in the world have at least 50 English-speaking international schools each, such as Dubai (which has more than 250) and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; Beijing; Shanghai; Bangkok; Tokyo; Singapore; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Madrid.

The average annual tuition for these schools varies by country—in Bangladesh, it’s $5,200; in Singapore, it’s $18,500. In places like China or India, the tuition is often higher than what the average family in that country earns in a year, making the schools available only to the wealthy.

Recognizing this changing demographic, schools are finding new ways to meet growing demand—and get around rules in some countries that limit the schools local students can attend. Take the Elite K-12 Education Group, which began in Ningbo—located on the coast near Shanghai—and is expanding to Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and other big Chinese cities. The school, which models itself after the British education system, offers an international bilingual program for Chinese nationals. Its local ownership allows local students to attend despite government rules which restrict Chinese nationals from attending internationally owned schools.

“I wanted my kids to be Chinese, to know who they are, but to learn with a global perspective and to be fully prepared for western university,” said Tao Sun, the chairman of the organization. “If you want your child to have many options for world-class universities, and if you want them to survive, thrive, and succeed there, then they need to start learning and speaking English as soon as they can.”

Look at some of the 8,000 international schools around the world, and it’s easy to see the appeal. In Dubai, the Safa Community School offers “clustered” classrooms with a common area that is “like a big sitting room for the community, where you can study at the ‘kitchen table,’ play a board game on the floor, film an action scene, bake some cookies, or sit on a bean bag with a laptop,” according to the school’s Facebook page. Down the road, the GEMS Nations Academy has classes in robotics and coding in a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

Michael E. DeBakey High School in Doha, Qatar, offers a focus on STEM training for professions in the medical field, while Cranleigh Abu Dhabi students are developing their own opera. Meanwhile, at the Nansha College Preparatory Academy in Guangzhou, China, content and English language teachers work together to plan and deliver lessons. That means that even in physics class, students’ English skills are constantly being tested.

Compare these approaches to a typical public school in many developing countries, where it is not uncommon to have more than 40 students in a class. In schools like that, the focus is on rote memorization and lectures, with little emphasis on student participation, according to international-school representatives. Of course, the children of many poor families in developing countries are often unable to attend school at all, because of cultural issues, the need to help out at home or earn money for the family, or the inability to afford school fees or uniforms. According to a UNICEF, more than 59 million children of primary-school age were out of school in 2013.

Plenty of international schools continue to cater to the expatriate family. With globalization, more people than ever are choosing to work abroad. This has led to a new euphemism: “Third Culture Kids,” or TCK. Picture a whole generation of, say, American kids who carry U.S. passports but have barely spent any time living in their home country.

“It’s all interrelated—this whole notion of free markets, global economy. Education has to meet that need,” said Cynthia Nagrath, the marketing and communication manager at The International Educator, a teacher-placement service based in Massachusetts. “People have to work together with students of different cultures,” she said. “That’s the beauty of these international schools. You’ve got students from all over the world, but they all learn together in English.”

For more, see the original document . . .
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We need a New Narrative for Globalization of Klaus Schwab

We need a New Narrative for Globalization of Klaus Schwab

Looking for some good weekend reads, we could not let the following article We need a New Narrative for Globalization of Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum go unnoticed. As a Regular Author, Klaus Schwab produced many noteworthy contributions in various media on this very subject, and we could not let it pass without hopefully helping its spread throughout the MENA region.  Globalisation is as a matter of fact impacting the MENA Region which with its diverse countries socio-economic and political arrangements does contribute to the ever increasing expansion globalisation but in its own discrete ways, resulting in as diverse appreciation and / or revulsion as elsewhere by its populations.

The only sure thing about this phenomenon is that it (globalisation) is here to stay and that it has only one way to go: expand further.  As put by this author: ‘We have to manage our future based on the fact that we are simultaneously local, national and global citizens with overlapping responsibilities and identities.’  And that: ‘The promise of a better future lies in acting together as stakeholders of a technology-driven global transformation process, with the objective of building a more modern, inclusive and human world.’ 

Klaus Schwab: We need a new narrative for globalization

Published by the WEF on Friday 17 March 2017

The world is at a historic crossroads. Market extremism, often labelled neoliberalism, which has shaped our national and global policies for the past three decades, has become a toxic fuel for the stuttering engine for global growth. It has also generated polluting side effects that are no longer tolerated by large portions of society.

Yet market-driven globalization has lifted over a billion people out of poverty and has been an overall driver of improved standards of living. In its present form, however, it is no longer fit for purpose in our current – nor particularly our future – context.

What are the reasons?

First, the global economic system has moved from focusing on meeting the needs and aspirations of crucial segments of society who feel they are living in a precarious situation, to focusing on the optimization of the system itself. As such, individuals want to regain control of their livelihoods and seek out more than material satisfaction. People are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives – lives that are not solely defined by economics and business, but which also encompass social and cultural affinities. Many people feel spiritually isolated in a globalized world and long for a socio-economic context in which greater emphasis is placed again on shared values and less on impersonal rules.

In addition, the legitimacy of a purely market-driven global economy was undermined by a growing number of systemic challenges, such as:

  • The transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, and consequently, to a world with competing societal concepts which challenge “Western” thinking;
  • Market power, corrupt practices and speculative financial practices distorting the fairness of markets and the process of real long-term value creation;
  • Transformation of production processes, emphasizing automation, capital and innovation over manual, and soon intellectual, labour;
  • The serious threat to the preservation and regeneration of our environment, caused by the excessive use and erosion of our natural resources.

Unheeded warnings

Since the 1980s, I have drawn attention repeatedly to the deficiencies of neoliberal globalization. For example, in an editorial for the International Herald Tribune (now the New York Times) more than 20 years ago, I wrote:

“Economic globalization has entered a critical phase. A mounting backlash against its effects, especially in the industrial democracies, is threatening a very disruptive impact on economic activity and social stability in many countries … This can easily turn into revolt …”

Even though the World Economic Forum emphasized the importance of social responsibility in its programmes in Davos and around the world, these warnings were not taken seriously enough.

Today, we face a backlash against that system and the elites who are considered to be its unilateral beneficiaries. The danger of this backlash is that it overlooks the fact that the search for innovation and competitiveness is still the main driver of economic development, and ultimately social progress. It is not the market-based system itself that is the issue, but rather its implementation. It is the lack of adequate and trustworthy principles to maintain a social contract inside it, which is indispensable to a fair, prosperous and healthy society.

Moreover, the tendency to resurrect national borders and other obstacles to global interconnectivity overlooks the fact that the world has become a community of shared responsibility. Global cooperation cannot be undone without causing major damage to all involved. We depend on each other when confronting the challenges of pollution, migration, space exploration, terrorism and crime – to name but a few.

It is also true that some of the elites were at the origin of aberrations in the system, just as others triggered a popular outcry over excessive abuses of this power. But any society that wants to remain dynamic needs people who assume responsibility for political and economic successes and failures alike. In a fast-changing world, where our very notion of identity is being challenged, the ideological choice is no longer between left and right, but rather between open and closed – with one of the consequences being that people are increasingly opposing “cosmopolitan” elites.

Thus, the ideological battle currently raging should not be between defending the “old” system against the current forces offering simple answers to very complex sets of challenges. Instead, this impasse must urgently be overcome – to not only be responsive to the grievances and anger of large portions of society, but also to move forward. Failure to do so will only result in a further shift towards more polarized societies and a breakdown of the norms that are fundamental to social cohesion.

The future challenge: the Fourth Industrial Revolution

There is no new replacement or ready-made ideology that can be conveniently taken “off the shelf”. Our priority should instead be to redesign our economic and social systems, taking into consideration that humankind, thanks to global interconnectivity and the growing impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is becoming more sophisticated, and the individual more emancipated.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will completely alter how we produce, how we consume, how we communicate and how we live. It will redefine the relationship between citizens and the state. It will provide us with great opportunities for enhancing the lives of individuals and societies. It will allow, if we get it right, a much more human-centred approach, fostering not only material satisfaction, but also genuine individual and societal well-being for all.

The present focus of our economic and political discussions seems to completely miss the mark. We have now a historic window of opportunity to shape technological breakthroughs, such as artificial intelligence and gene editing, in the service and for the benefit of humankind. We have two options. We can either fully use the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to help lift humanity to new heights, or we can allow ourselves to be controlled by the forces of technology and end up in a dystopian world in which citizens will have lost their autonomy.

Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a global challenge. The tension between globalism and nationalism is artificial. We have to manage our future based on the fact that we are simultaneously local, national and global citizens with overlapping responsibilities and identities. The best way to develop a sustainable future is through the stakeholder concept, which I developed more than 40 years ago, and which forms the base of the Forum’s philosophy.

The basic principle for the success of the stakeholder concept is to find long-term solutions based on dialogue, and endorsed by the commitment and willingness to achieve the best outcome in the shared long-term interest of all stakeholders. As the international organization for public-private cooperation, the World Economic Forum is committed to serving this purpose as a catalyst and convener.

The promise of a better future lies in acting together as stakeholders of a technology-driven global transformation process, with the objective of building a more modern, inclusive and human world.