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.