by George Atsalakis*
Humanity’s prosperity during the last 200 years resulted in the aggravation of the environment and climatic changes which become more intense year after year.
The average temperature of the atmosphere is increasing, the ice melt in the poles and the extreme weather phenomena constantly rise. Unless we stop to produce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we will face destructive consequences. For example, if the ice in Greenland melts, the sea level will rise several meters. The result will be that many areas will flood becoming uninhabited. Other areas will become uninhabited due to drought. Drought and floods will create a massive and unpredictable influx of emigration.
Till 2050 around 10 billion people will inhabit the Earth. Today the one third of the habitants of the Earth has limited access to essential goods to survive (food, water, energy etc.). Under the present financial circumstances it will be very hard for the economically-developed countries to maintain and raise their level of prosperity, since they will compete with several billions of people who will try as well to raise their level of prosperity. As a result, conflicts regarding access to natural sources and especially energy and water will deepen, climatic changes will accelerate and the already gained levels of prosperity in many countries will seriously be threatened.
For the humanity to relish the merits of the essential energy in the future and the climatic changes to cease, the sun and the solar radiation should be exploited. Within a period of 6 hours, the deserts of the Earth receive more energy than the humanity consumes in one year.
The question that needs to be answered is the way solar energy will become financially useful and can be transferred to consumption.
The answer comes from an ambitious project called DESERTEC, which constitutes to the solution of the above problems: energy shortage, water and food shortage and reduction of the emission of carbon dioxide. At the same time, it offers new development potentials not only to the financially developed countries but also to the less economically developed countries that will participate in the project. Researches of the German Aero spatial Centre, (DLR) show that, within 40years, solar thermal factories will produce more than half the energy that the countries of Europe, Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA) will consume.
In order to produce today’s annual needs in energy (18.000 TWh) it is required to place in the deserts of the Earth a bank of solar cell panels of 90.000 square meters. Almost 20 square meters of the desert are enough to produce the energy that a person consumes day and night, without emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Project DESERTEC (look picture 1) will give the opportunity to many people around the world to have access to solar and wind energy from rich in energy, yet deserted areas. By using Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Plants (CSP-Plants) and High-Voltage Direct Current transmission lines (HVDC), energy can be transferred with a loss of 3% per 1.000 kilometers. Twenty companies, mostly German, established an association in order to realize this project. The cost of the project comes to 400 billion of Euros, and 350 out of them will be allocated to the construction of solar thermal stations. The rest will be given for the construction of photo-voltaic, hydroelectric geothermal and wind- powered stations.
CSP-Plants have an advantage over photo-voltaic, which is that solar heat can cheaply and efficiently be stored so the CSP-Plants can produce energy even during night time or on cloudy days. Additionally, natural gas or biofuels can auxiliary be used in case that sunlight is not enough.
At present, the cost of producing energy from solar thermal stations including the cost of transfer through HVDC, ranges from 10 to 20 minutes per kilowatt/hour according to the location, the technology used and administration. This cost will significantly decrease through the achievement of scale economy and technology improvements. If we calculate the environmental cost along with other secret costs, it is very possible that energy production by CSP-Plants is already cheaper than the one produced in coal and nuclear plants.
The countries of Europe, Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA), can gain great profits from DESERTEC project. They will be able to get energy from solar thermal stations in the deserts, and complimentary from wind-powered and hydroelectric stations.
The production and energy distribution will boost the financial development of these countries and will produce jobs not only during the construction period but also during energy production (the construction of a solar thermal station requires almost 1.000 workers and mechanics for a period of 2 to 3 years).
European countries will be able to increase the percentage of energy produced by renewable sources and decrease the dependence on natural gas and coal. Instead of depending on big pipelines to transfer energy, as required by the natural gas and petroleum, DESERTEC project will increase their security standards since energy will be supplied by many medium carriages. Occasional damage in the production stations can be mended very easily.
Crete has more sunny days than any other European country. Especially, in the area of Fragokastelo the days are sunnier than any other part of Europe. Having such a lot of sunshine Greece and especially Crete should not be excluded from the DESERTEC project. The above benefits Crete will be able to acquire as well if it is included to the DESERTEC project. Towards this direction there should be joint attempts by the state along with development and energy authorities.
*George Atsalakis PhD
President of the department of AHEPA,
Kidon – Crete HG-06
Professor in the School of Polytechnics of Crete
Laboratory of Data Analysis and Prediction