Archive for the 'Energy from the desert' category

Munich Re Continues to Back Desert Based Solar

Oct 18 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Says this article at PV-Tech. They cite Munich Re renewable energy spokesman Stefan Straub like this:

“The concept phase is closed and something new needs to be developed. The three main companies that remain in Dii will continue this development as they are industrial companies and project leading companies, which we are not.”

But he added that Munich RE was not done with projects in the region, as it just reinsured Noor 1, one of the biggest solar projects in North Africa, which also happens to be run by ACWA Power, one of the remaining shareholders in Dii. “Of course we still support the idea to have solar power developed in the desert regions,” said Straub.

In other words, it made sense to distribute the cost for writing reports in the “concept phase” widely among interested companies. It makes less sense to do so once the concept is clear and you move on into developing actual projects.

And, as far as Munich Re is concerned, they will still help renewable energy in Northern Africa as part of their business, like with the Noor 1 project.

That’s welcome news. I have Munich Re in my list of global warming stocks (and own some stock of the company) because I like their approach to renewable energy. I might have wanted to change that opinion if I thought their move out of the Dii means that they are suddenly opposed to solar in the Sahara.

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Desertec Setback

Oct 16 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Most of the participating companies in the “Desertec industrial initiative (Dii)” have decided not to extend their membership over the end of this year.

After this decision, Dii is left only with the World’s largest electric utility company (SGCC), one of the largest German utilities (RWE), and ACWA from Saudi Arabia. These are still some serious players. Especially the Chinese grid company SGCC has experience with energy from the desert. There is already quite a lot of wind power in Inner Mongolia, and the Chinese are not shy about building the necessary power lines to distribute that power over the whole country.

A large majority of the stakeholders is out. See for example this Guardian article.

Many people don’t understand that the “industrial initiative” was scheduled to run only for three years in the first place, that it has been running already longer than originally planned, that its mission was not to actually build desert power plants, but publish reports on how to best go ahead.

Having the Dii scale back strongly because most of the member companies are leaving does certainly not mean that suddenly it makes no sense to generate solar and wind power in Northern Africa. Of course it does.

It remains to be seen if it makes sense to export much of the desert electricity to Europe a couple of decades from now, once Desertec scales up. The fact that a couple of companies decided that they want to pull out of the Dii does not much to influence that decision in either direction.

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New “Power to Gas” Technology

Sep 28 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

The way to go for large-scale storage of renewable electricity ispower to gas“, which means making hydrogen from water. Germany can store up to 200 TWh with the existing gas infrastructure, much more than the around 30 TWh needed in a 100% renewable electricity scenario. And hybrid wind power plants with the ability to store energy over hydrogen are already starting up.

Most existing projects are wind parks. But now SPIEGEL reports about a new technology for solar “power to gas”.

Researchers have developed a solar cell that is able to directly split water. It does not produce electricity in a first step and splits the water in a second step, but only has one step. Just like plants’ photosynthesis produces carbohydrates directly, this solar cell will produce hydrogen directly.

It beats photosynthesis (efficiency of about one percent) by a large margin, converting already 12.3% of the solar energy into hydrogen energy, even at this early prototype stage. And this solar cell uses no expensive materials, which means it will be even cheaper than photovoltaic solar cells.

In the short term, this will solve the remaining storage problems with a 100% renewable grid even cheaper than already existing alternatives. In the long term, this will replace oil.

Oil is ancient biomass. When storing the energy, the efficiency was only about one percent. Then it took millions of years and random geological processes to actually create the oil.

It is obvious that there is no way this could be competitive, except for the fact that we are burning oil that is already in the ground. Which can be done exactly once for each barrel.

Once peak oil becomes downhill oil and then gone oil,  making our liquid fuel ourselves as opposed to burning through the reserves will be the only alternative anyway. It took 5.3 million years to build up the fossil fuel humanity burns in one year. There is no way this is sustainable.

So we will need to make our fuel, instead of burning the reserves. One-step hydrogen production from cheap materials is a big deal for doing that.

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Desert Fox

Attribution for the picture: Wikimedia Commons


In my review of George Marshall’s book on global warming messaging, I noted that the usual symbol (polar bear) is actually not suited to the task, according to Marshall. I agree. Polar bears are great when you want people to think about a cool drink. They don’t make much sense on an emotional level if you want to talk about heat.

Marshall notes that, but does not try to show a better alternative. I didn’t either, at the time, but left that for later.

With this post, I propose the desert fox as a symbol.

I got to that choice by searching on Google with “desert cute animal”, for obvious reasons.

The picture above is from the relevant Wikipedia article, the section on keeping them as pets.

That’s good. You can’t keep a polar bear as a pet.

They are the world’s smallest canids, at a length of about 24 cm. That’s good, because people relate to dogs very well (another canid).

Their big ears are there for a reason. That reason is to dissipate heat. Another excellent fit for the “heat” narrative.

They are not only the smallest canids out there, but their ears look like a two bladed wind turbine. They do to me, at least. I may be somewhat unreasonable there.

They also don’t need to drink any water. Their burrowing can cause the formation of dew, and they can take the necessary liquid only from eating prey.

That’s good, since it is a nice symbol for drought, one of the unpleasant consequences of global warming.

I am not sure if this proposal will gain any traction. I for one will start out using it when talking about energy from the desert. As far as I know, the Desertec industrial initiative still has not adopted polar bears as an animal symbol, so there is an obvious void to be filled.

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European Grid 10 Year Development Plan

Sep 27 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Dii (Desertec industrial initiative) discusses the latest 10 year plan for developing the European electricity grid of 2014.

They note that some of the projects for connecting Europe to Northern Africa that were included in the last 2012 plan have been dropped. The latest edition aims for one (in numbers 1) interconnection of 0.6 GW, to be ready by 2030.

And they call on ENTSO-E, the European network of transmission system operators for electricity, to reverse these steps in the wrong direction.

They note correctly that Northern Africa has better solar and wind resources than Europe and that therefore it makes even more sense to produce solar electricity there than in Germany.

I agree with that.

And the best way to get those power lines built: Just go ahead and build the capacity in Northern Africa anyway. There is a domestic market for the first couple of decades. Proceed to build the power lines once there is a clear price advantage that makes it profitable to have them.

And while the power lines are not in place, there is always the options of using quicklime for transporting solar energy from Africa to Europe, of using the energy right in the desert to suck up CO2, or to make some silicon.

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California Desert Plans

Sep 24 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Good news from California. AP reports that they have designated 2 million desert acres as appropriate sites for renewable energy projects. Thanks again to Chris Nelder for the link.

That’s 2 million acres out of a total of 22.5 million, or less than 10 percent. There is plenty of desert left for endangered turtles.

I also learned that Google and other operators of the newly opened Ivanpah thermal solar project had a $20 million budget to collect these turtles and locate them elsewhere.

Of course it makes sense to locate renewable energy projects in areas of the desert where there are less turtles in the first place. If they are an endangered species, one would expect them not to show up all over the desert area, leaving some areas more suitable for renewable energy projects than others. And it makes sense to identify those areas, so the developers can save the cost of relocation.

Of course there will be some conservationists who insist that not one acre of desert may be used for renewable energy. They are misguided. Ivanpah will contribute around 1 TWh of clean energy each year, displacing fossil fuel and saving 400,000 tons of CO2 emissions. That is an important contribution to fight global warming, which will lead to massive species extinction on a global scale.


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Solar Hydrogen from Australia

Jul 08 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Giles Parkinson writes at Reneweconomy about the coming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Australia and a region thereof called “Pilbara” I had never heard of until now. That region is about 502,000 square kilometers, which is around 1.4 the size of Germany, and had a whopping 48,610 in population in 2010.

As Parkinson points out, at least one group in Australia “has plans for a feasibility study” for making hydrogen from solar energy in Pilbara. That hydrogen then could be exported to Japan, if things scale up.

I recall having started a blog with the title “Hydrogen Mongolia” in 2006 with exactly the idea of making hydrogen from renewable energy in the Gobi desert. In 2012 I wrote a book titled “Energy from the Mongolian Gobi desert” about this. It is available as a free PDF file on this blog.

So I welcome the news that some Australians have plans to study the issue. Australia has great solar resources. If they start making fuel from them, the could stop exporting their stinking coal and get to supply a large part of the World’s fuel once everything has moved over to renewable.

While hydrogen is certainly one way to do it, they could also have a look at the alternative of using the limestone cycle.

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Oyu Tolgoi Power Plant

May 28 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert, Mongolia

Giles Parkinson writes about Rio Tinto starting to build solar power for their remotely located mining operations. They seem to plan a small 6.7 MW solar project at a place called Weipa in Queensland, Australia. There the solar will displace electricity generation with diesel generators.

As the article notes, it makes sense to get rid of the need to transport fuel over long distances. One of the people involved said:

“Transporting fuel long distances for generators is dangerous and subject to variable weather conditions – it is a costly, unpredictable arrangement that doesn’t make good economic sense.”

I was interested in this development since I have called for using solar power instead of coal at the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine project in Mongolia since 2011.

So I checked what has been decided about this coal power plant project. The last information I could find says that the decision is still open. The “technical report” prepared in March 2013 says that Turquoise Hill is weighing their options, one of them being building a coal power plant themselves. And in their yearly report published in March 2014, they report an increased estimate of $0.89 per pound of copper, with the reason for that increase that the estimate now incorporates buying power from third parties. That of course means that for the very least plans to build their own coal plant are not yet final.

In contrast, in 2011 they published a detailed plan for such a coal plant, which said on page 40 that the power plant was expected to start delivering electricity in September 2013. Those plans don’t seem to have worked out.

Also, Bloomberg reported in March 2013 that now the idea was to locate a coal at the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine site, which makes sense, since it is easier to transport the electricity from there to Oyu Tolgoi than to transport the coal the other way.

Anyway, these delays are most welcome. They may very well be an interesting opening for installing something like the 6.7 MW project in Weipa at Oyu Tolgoi as well.


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Yingli Solar Soccer Spot

May 20 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Disclosure: I own a small amount of Yingli stock, for the reasons explained in my post “List of Global Warming Stocks”.

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Pakistan Solar Desert Project

May 14 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Climate Progress just reported that a 100 MW solar project was inaugurated in the Pakistan Cholistan desert. There are supposed to be 400,000 solar panels installed until the end of this year there.

Right now, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif just came to the site and laid the foundation stone. It remains to be seen if those solar panels actually go up in time. There have been reports about problems with securing financing for the power lines, so that is far from sure.

There are further plans to increase capacity to 1,000 MW by 2016. I hope those plans materialize. But right now there is not much to see here.


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