400 billion Euro burned in the (desert) sand?
There was much noise in the German media in mid-June 2009 regarding a „new“ idea for „renewable“ energies. The leading German paper , FAZ, headline was: " From Africa's sun to German outlets". 20 companies, including RWE, Eon, Schott, Siemens and the Deutsche Bank under the umbrella of Munich Re AG, anounced the so-called DESERTEC concept. In Northern Africa, solar generated electricity (our illustration), will be transfered to Europe through HVDC (High Voltage DC Transmission)-lines and thus create "... a vision for sustainable power supply for the EUMENA region (Europe, the Middle East and North Africa) until 2050 ...". Early calculations published mention a cost framework for this idea of 400.000.000.000 Euros (400 billion Euro, 553 billion U.S. Dollar). Many are cheering now and even Greenpeace requires for this Idea: "... a secure fremework from the politicians ..."
Scheme of a Mini Solar Thermal Power Plant (MSTPP)
Not only the member of the German parliament Dr. Hermann Scheer, also President of EURO SOLAR, Bonn, has concerns. He warns, in a statement of 17 June 2009: "... the premature excessive expectations for this Project and related subsidy decisions are underestimated...“, according to Scheer, „ the actual cost of this project as well as the time frame will be much higher to realize than expected.
Franz Alt, journalist, owner and operator of www.sonnenseite.com, has his doubts: "... In Middle Europe the problem of storage can be solved in a cheaper and much faster way through a mix of all renewable energy sources as through long transport routes. The wind often blows when the Sun is not shining, and geothermal, biomass and hydropower can also compensate a lack of sunlight. The winners of this decentralized energy turn are then not the few old utilities, but millions of homeowners and hundreds of thousands of peasants, craftsmen and small and medium-sized ... " The idea: "Sahara-energy-stream for Germany" is in fact not new. Already in the seventies, after the first oil crisis, Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm (MBB) and the Ludwig Bölkow Systemtechnik in Ottobrunn near Munich released studies on this task. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Ludwig Bölkow held on 25 March 1982 a remarkable presentation before the Peutinger Collegium in Munich on the topic.
Some quotes from this lecture, which is as valid today as it was back then: "... The ongoing, sometimes very hectic debate for years on the right kind of future supply of our national and global energy needs has led to irrational, often emotional ideas, but it also creates economic and politically misguided attitudes. (...) At the beginning of the fifties physicists, economists and some politicians warned about the exhaustion of fossil fuels. (...) Since 1951 there are the first proposals for more intensive use of solar energy. (...) This was really much time to think about it and to start planning. What happened, however, was less than nothing. The view of the energy economist was primarily addressed to the tapping of new oil wells. The cheap oil began it's triumphant in the sixties. It displaced existing forms of energy, such as the coal, to a large extend in (West) Germany. By burning oil and gas, the profits for the producers of energy rose to record numbers in the same extent to which our rush to prosperity and throwaway society the offered energy wasted...".
So far the words of Dr. Bölkow 27 years ago. We can applause and have to thank him for these clear statements. Already then, the graphics showing the necessary plotted areas to supply The World / Europe / Germany with energy created from solar power from Europe and Northern Africa were created. I saw this chart in Bölkow `s office myself. Not much has been done. Even worse, I think the situation is more intensified and thus "dramatized" today. What is it, that the DESERTEC consortium now wants?
Here are some quotes from their current releases: "... The advantage of application of solar thermal power [Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP) Plants] lies in the procedure: First, sunlight is concentrated and, in contrast to photovoltaics, converted to high-temperature heat. Hot steam then drives turbines to generate electricity in a conventional power station. (...) Also, gas or biofuels may be used as a stop-gap source of heat when there is not enough sun. These things mean that CSP plants may deliver power on demand whenever it is required. (...) Also, HVDC transmission lines have been in commercial use for decades and manufacturing capacity may be expanded as required...".
Where is the "hook"? The catch lies in the central approach to this idea: DESERTEC is only feasible through large capital-intensive projects. Only old technologies are in use, such as the production of electricity by using turbines and generators, with long-expired "expiration date". The hook is also apparent in the existing structures of the (global) electric power companies: The project would just duplicate the existing system whereby energy distribution is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. Dr. Hermann Scheer says: "... DESERTEC can lead to a large subsidy ruin and can prove to be a mirage - unless it is used for stopping the dynamic expansion of renewable energies in this country ...". I agree, especially if you think of the the concentrated "lobbying capacity" of that consortium. DESETEC takes "donations" on its website as well. Another major problem is the energy dependence from abroad. Nothing will change, if we go from one dependence to another one.
So what should we do? In my opinion, there is only one sensible solution, from which already many of the components are present: the transformation of the existing system to a real DECENTRALIZED hydrogen economy using all renewable energy sources. We need to use ALL functions of the fuel cell, namely electricity, heat and water. This should be achievable with far less than 400 000 000 000 Euro and even before 2050. The people who can do this already exist today. There is much to be done. When do we start?
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