Energy and Global Warming News for November 2: Concentrated solar power from Sahara a step closer; Gore says Obama likely to attend Copenhagen


Concentrated solar thermal power from Sahara a step closer

A $400bn (£240bn) plan to provide Europe with solar power from the Sahara moved a step closer to reality today with the formation of a consortium of 12 companies to carry out the work.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) aims to provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 or earlier via power lines stretching across the desert and Mediterranean sea.

The German-led consortium was brought together by Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, and consists of some of country’s biggest engineering and power companies, including Siemens, E.ON, ABB and Deutsche Bank.

It now believes the DII can deliver solar power to Europe as early as 2015.

“We have now passed a real milestone as the company has been founded and there is definitely a profitable business there,” said Professor Peter H¶ppe, Munich Re’s head of climate change.

“We see this as a big step towards solving the two main problems facing the world in the coming years – climate change and energy security,” said H¶ppe.

The solar technology involved is known as concentrated solar power (CSP) which uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a fluid container. The super-heated liquid then drives turbines to generate electricity. The advantage over solar photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight directly to electricity, is that if sufficient hot fluid is stored in containers, the generators can run all night.

For more on CSP, see “Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution” and “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona “” total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone” and “The secret to low-water-use, high-efficiency concentrating solar power

For more on Desertec, read the study, “Desert Power: The Economics of Solar Thermal Electricity for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.”  More from the story:

The technology is not new – there have been CSP plants running in the deserts of California and Nevada for two decades. But it is the scale of the Desertec initiative which is a first, along with plans to connect North Africa to Europe with new high voltage direct current cables which transport electricity over great distances with little loss.

Leading European energy industry expert Paul van Son has been appointed chief executive of DII and will recruit staff to build up a framework to make the building of both power plants and the grid infrastructure.

“We recognise and strongly support the Desertec vision as a pivotal part of the transition to a sustainable energy supply in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe,” he said.

“Now the time has come to turn this vision into reality. That implies intensive cooperation with many parties and cultures to create a sound basis for feasible investments into renewable energy technologies and interconnected grids.”

Desertec has gained broad support across Europe, with the newly elected German coalition government of Angela Merkel hoping the project could offset its dependence on Russian gas supplies.

North African governments are said to be keen, too, to further exploit their natural resources. Algeria and Libya are already big oil and gas suppliers to Europe.

H¶ppe said Munich Re had been concerned about the potential impact of climate change on the insurance business since the early 1970s. Extreme weather events related to climate change are already a reality and have the potential to be uninsurable against within a few decades, pointing to a possible crisis for the industry, he said.

“To keep our business model alive in 30 or 40 years we have to ensure things are still insurable,” he said.

Munich Re also plans to invest in the new initiative and H¶ppe said banks were confident that they could raise sufficient funding to make the project work.

There are already some small CSP plants in Spain and North Africa, with the power used locally. But Desertec plans to see big power stations of one gigawatt operating in five years’ time and exporting some current across the Mediterranean. The consortium stresses, though, that power generated by solar fields in North Africa would be used by North Africans as well as Europeans. North Africa has a small population relative to the size of its deserts. For similar reasons Australia is putting together its own Desertec initiative.

Gore Says Obama Likely to Attend Copenhagen Climate Summit

US President Barack Obama is likely to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, former US Vice President Al Gore has told SPIEGEL in an interview. Gore said he is optimistic the US Congress will agree an outline of climate legislation before the conference, allowing Obama to head to the Danish capital with “a more substantive position.”

Former US Vice President Al Gore says US President Barack Obama is likely to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

“I see the calendar, I see the unfolding of events, and I feel certain he will go,” Gore told SPIEGEL in an interview. Gore expressed optimism that the US Congress will agree on the outline of climate change legislation before the conference. “Therefore, I think there is a very real prospect that the legislation will pass, and that as a result, Obama will have the ability to go to Copenhagen with a more substantive position.”

Gore also asked emerging nations for radical changes in their climate change policy: “They have to accept binding provisions. Many developing nations are still thinking that the wealthier countries will take binding obligations, and the developing countries will have non-binding provisions. That is not a formula for success.”

Gore also commented on Obama’s presidency, saying: “He had a bad summer, but he is having a good fall.”

He said about criticism that the president is engaging in too many reform projects at the same time: “After eight years of retrogression, Obama would have been more bitterly criticized if he had chosen only one priority and had not tried to address the many challenges that need to be undertaken. So I do think there is a grain of truth to it, but I also know that his mandate was and is strongest at the beginning of his term.”

Gore also addressed the risk of presidential over-exposure by too many appearances: “There have been times when I thought that President Obama maybe got close to that line, for instance with regard to his television interviews.”

Merkel to Pressure U.S. Lawmakers to Step Up Climate Measures

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will call on U.S. lawmakers to step up efforts to fight climate change when she speaks to Congress next week, adding pressure as leaders gear up for a make-or-break United Nations summit.

Merkel will speak jointly to the House of Representatives and Senate on Nov. 3, carrying with her the European Union’s goal of a 30 percent reduction of air pollution blamed for global warming by rich nations as a whole. She said she’ll tell Congress it’s time to join a campaign the EU began years ago.

“We just can’t do it all by ourselves,” Merkel told reporters after an EU summit meeting today in Brussels. “We’ve set the agenda with everything.”

The EU is urging wealthy economies to commit to reductions in greenhouse gases by 2020 under any new UN treaty to counter the heat waves, storms and floods tied to global warming. The UN aims at a December meeting in Copenhagen for an agreement that would replace the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012.

The Senate threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s push for a deal in Copenhagen because it may not pass a climate bill before the two-week meeting is scheduled to begin on Dec. 7. The House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this year.

Even as EU leaders today failed to approve climate aid for the developing world as poorer nations within its own bloc balked at the costs, Merkel stressed the EU’s more robust position on climate compared with the U.S.

“I will make statements on climate change that aren’t different from what we’ve talked about today,” Merkel said.

While the EU is on course to cut greenhouse gases by a fifth in 2020 compared with 1990, congressional draft legislation would reduce U.S. emissions about 5 percent over that period. The EU has said it’s willing to deepen its reduction target to 30 percent over the period provided other wealthy economies follow suit.

UN climate chief: Deal must be legally enforceable

Developing countries don’t trust wealthy nations’ promises that they will help them meet the challenges of climate change, the U.N.’s top climate official said Monday, adding that means any new global warming deal must have legal force.

The legal status of an agreement and whether nations will be sanctioned for failing to meet their commitments are contentious issues in talks on controlling the world’s emissions of carbon and other heat-raising greenhouse gases.

“We live in a world of broken promises,” said Yvo de Boer, the U.N. climate chief, told The Associated Press. Developing countries are concerned “they will commit to targets and not deliver.”

He spoke as negotiators resumed work Monday on a draft agreement for approval at a major U.N. conference next month in the Danish capital of Copenhagen.

The talks among some 180 countries focus on emissions targets by industrial nations and on actions the developing countries can take to slow the growth of their own emissions without impairing their development. Delegates also must determine how to raise and manage some $150 billion (euro100 billion) a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

With time running out and wide gaps between nations remaining, attention focused Monday on if United States can commit to a specific target to reduce emissions over the next decade and how much the U.S. will contribute to a global fund to help developing countries.

Scientists say poor countries will be hardest hit by climate change. They say coastal areas will be threatened by rising sea levels, countries will be hit by more severe storms as well as more frequent drought, and tropical diseases and warm weather pests will spread.

U.S. commitments have been tied up in legislation slowly making its way through Congress, which may not be completed before the Dec. 7-18 conference in Copenhagen.

“We expect the United States to be able to deliver on one of the major challenges of our century,” said Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard, who will chair the Copenhagen meeting.

Hedegaard noted that President Barack Obama will be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in the neighboring country of Norway on Dec. 10 – just as the decisive climate conference is under way.

UC Berkeley program to link business, energy research

The University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is launching a center to help speed energy and environmental research to the marketplace.

The Haas Energy Institute will bring together existing programs at UC Berkeley like the Center for Energy and Environmental Innovation and the Cleantech to Market initiative, which link scientists, businesspeople and policymakers.

Other top business schools have energy programs, and Haas wants one, too, said Severin Borenstein, co-director of the new energy center and director of the systemwide University of California Energy Institute.

“You hear about a new one every single day,” he said. “All the top business schools are now coming to this area.”

The institute will be primarily funded by Haas, the University of California president’s office, and a grant from the California Energy Commission, Borenstein said.

Matt Rogers, the U.S. Department of Energy’s senior adviser in charge of implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, said at Berkeley last week that increasing cooperation between the policy and technical sectors is of paramount importance right now as the federal government seeks to disburse tens of billions of dollars in grants and loans for energy projects.

“Charting America’s environment and energy future represents one of the defining issues of our time,” he said. “We have to find practical solutions to the challenges we face as markets begin to take place. Once the markets take shape, we can retreat back into our little silos and go deeper and deeper.”

Chinese Involvement in Proposed Texas Wind Farm Stirs Passions

News last week of the first major influx of Chinese capital and wind turbine manufacturing expertise into the renewable energy market in the United States “” a 600-megawatt wind farm planned for the plains of west Texas “” had many readers of the Green Inc. blog in a state of agitation.

“I don’t understand why China is exporting wind energy to the U.S.,” wrote Mark from New York City. “Isn’t this exactly the kind of project a United States company could and should be doing?”

Another reader “” Drew from Boston “” was more blunt: “Again, China is playing the West for a sucker,” he wrote. “We send them our engineering, they get the manufacturing work and experience.”

The details of the deal known so far: Contingent on financing from Chinese commercial banks “” and no small measure of funding from the U.S. economic stimulus package “” A-Power Energy Generation Systems, a Nasdaq-listed company based in the Chinese industrial city of Shenyang, would provide 240 of its 2.5-megawatt wind turbines for a 36,000-acre, or 14,600-hectare, utility-scale wind farm in west Texas to be operated by Cielo Wind Power, a developer based in Austin.

The total cost of the project, which was brokered in part by the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, an American private equity company, was estimated at $1.5 billion. At an event after the announcement in Washington on Thursday, Cappy McGarr, a managing partner at the company, was beaming.

“This planned $1.5 billion investment in wind energy will spur tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector,” Mr. McGarr was quoted in a news release as saying, “and directly create hundreds of high-paying American jobs.”

The devil, though “” as many observers pointed out by the end of the week “” is in the details.

The group’s calculations last week put the number of American jobs at a little more than 300 “” most of them temporary construction jobs, along with about 30 permanent positions once the wind farm is operating. Mr. McGarr told The Wall Street Journal that more than 2,000 Chinese jobs would be created by the deal.

That, along with the fact that the project was hoping to secure 30 percent, or $450 million, of its financing from U.S. stimulus funds, was enough to send tempers flaring.

“Why are U.S. stimulus funds being used to subsidize manufacturing jobs in China,” wrote a reader at Green Inc., who pointed out that American officials had repeatedly warned that the United States could lose its competitive edge on renewable energy manufacturing to China.

And yet, he continued, “the federal government gives stimulus monies to subsidize a project buying turbines made in China. Why?”

Part of the agitation almost certainly arises from China’s own reputation for green protectionism.

14 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 2: Concentrated solar power from Sahara a step closer; Gore says Obama likely to attend Copenhagen

  1. anders says:

    CSP needs a lot of fresh water as working fluid, for cooling and cleaning. Is there enough to spare in the sahara? All models say that fresh water will be more and more of a problem throughout the mediterrean.

    Wind and pv needs a lot less in situ, wind especially but it has intermittancy, with electric vehicles and a smart grid wind is a smarter solution as the generators could be placed within europe, on the open ocean, which minimizes energy security problems as well as needs less expensive HVDC cables.

  2. Seth Masia says:

    Anders: Recent design work means that dry-cooling towers can cut water consumption to about 100 gallons per MW-hour. This is about one-eighth the water used in today’s steam-cycle CSP plants. It should be possible (at some cost in plant efficiency) to convert brackish or salt water for use in cooling systems. By the time these plants come on line, it’s possible that they’ll use closed-loop thermal storage systems for almost all cooling functions, and use water only for cleaning, in a recoverable cycle.

  3. max says:

    Joe- Have you thought about blogging on David Victor’s Opinion piece in Nature volume 461 page 342 (September 17 2009) issue? Plan B for Copenhagen

  4. rob says:

    just got an interesting email today from APS stating

    “At its May meeting the Council received a petition from a large group of Members and Fellows
    (now numbering over 160), saying that the Society position [on global warming] was not supported by the science, asking for
    its reconsideration, proposing an alternate, and suggesting that the Society undertake a real and impartial
    study of the scientific situation. ”

    They added a link to the website with what this group wants as the new APS view on global warming:

    One thing I noticed right off the bat is the authors of the letter:

    Professor Hal Lewis, University of California, Santa Barbara
    Professor Fred Singer, University of Virginia
    Professor Will Happer, Princeton University
    Professor Larry Gould, University of Hartford
    Dr. Roger Cohen, retired Manager, Strategic Planning, ExxonMobil

    Any names sound familiar to you?

  5. David Murray says:

    Dear Joe,

    You rightly changed the usage of “concentrated solar power” to “solar baseload”. But even this short changes csp – with storage it becomes “dispatchable solar power”.

    Intermittent power is the least valuable. Baseload is marginally better. But dispatchable power is the creme de la creme. More importantly it is the power that gets the top dollar.

    Keep up the good work.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  6. paulm says:

    Interesting take…

    Clive James isn’t a climate change sceptic, he’s a sucker – but this may be the reason

    My fiercest opponents on global warming tend to be in their 60s and 70s. This offers a fascinating, if chilling, insight into human psychology

    is it fanciful to suppose that those who are closer to the end of their lives might react more strongly against reminders of death? I haven’t been able to find any experiments testing this proposition, but it is surely worth investigating. And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the last two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

  7. C. Vink says:

    Kilimanjaro’s snows melt away in dramatic evidence of climate change
    The Times, November 2 – The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro will be gone within two decades, according to scientists who say that the rapid melting of its glacier cap over the past century provides dramatic physical evidence of global climate change.
    If the forecast – based on 95 years of data tracking the retreat of the Kilimanjaro ice – proves correct it will be the first time in about 12,000 years that the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain have been ice-free.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Reverse osmosis now costss about $1.50 per cubic meter. Lifting water to the average height of the Sahara Desert, 400 meters, requires a similar sum in pumping costs. Horizontal water transport foes under the “small losses” heading. So fresh water in the desrt is going to be rather pricey; best to reuse as much as possible.

    For working fluid cooling, sea water is perfectly acceptable. Consideration has to be given to the proper disposal of the warmed sea water.

    Nothing insurmoutable here, but I do suggest staying around the edges, not deep in the interior.

  9. paulm says:

    OK, now that sea level rise figures are firming up.

    How come no ones talking about what we are going to do with the nuclear power plants on the coasts?

    This is a huge problem that has been ignored.

    What is the cost going to be? Will it even be possible to move the radioactive material out of the way in time. And that’s if we still have stable societies.

  10. WAG says:

    The most interesting thing about the Desertec story is that it actually proves all deniers wrong: if the market is never wrong, then what does it mean when Munich Re, the world’s largest risk manager, concludes that the risk of global warming is great enough to warrant $400 billion of investment in climate mitigation? If you don’t believe scientists, then ask the Market – the answer is the same.

  11. Leif says:

    Good point WAG. You can also be sure that they do not intend to lose money on their investment.
    Take that Inhofe and all.

  12. Anonymous says:

    9 paulm: “Will it even be possible to move the radioactive material out of the way in time? Yes. Easily. “Huge” is not a number. There is far more uranium in coal ash than there is in nuclear power plants.

  13. Edward says:

    Al Gore is correct in saying that developing nations must also cooperate. Allowing them to extort money is good for nobody. They need to understand that global warming is a near-term threat to them. Fixing global warming is not just a game rich countries find amusing.

  14. anders says:


    seems the water problem can be solved with reasonable costs as long as you stay close to the coast, combination wind and csp also better and the wind blows more at the coast.

    Still leaves the problem of political stability and costly hvdc lines, don’t know how much a step up it is to depend on nothern africa for electricity compared to russia.