Thursday, November 5, 2009

Renewable Energy and Future Political Strife

The worlds largest renewable energy producing installation is a project by the DESERTEC Foundation that will see 100GW of solar energy to be harvested in the Sahara Desert throughout Northern Africa. It will be one of the largest networks of photovoltaic arrays in the world. According to Inhabitat:
The project will link multiple solar concentrating facilities around coastal North Africa and transmit most of the renewable energy through high-voltage DC lines to Europe. Additionally, desalination plants will be coupled with the solar concentrating plants to bring fresh water to people in Africa.
The potential is obviously great. The environment of North Africa is ripe for solar collection. Since the power is being sent to Europe, there is also a viable consumer base to tap into, which, in the end, will create an economy based around the technology and its delivery. Unfortunately, this also means that there is much profit in the venture. If it is not integrated into the political and social landscape as well, the struggle could result in an instance of instability. If a large foreign entity attempts to create and legitimize a blossoming energy economy throughout several countries that struggle for economy, and not take steps to integrate the system into the local political and social systems, future strife is inevitable. You only have to look at the current struggle in the Niger Delta of southern Nigeria for example.

However, the project holds the potential to be an instance of leapfrog technology within the region. The DESERTEC solar belt is scheduled to produce 15% of Europes power needs. This is an incredible amount of energy being transmitted OUT of countries that are lacking in viable energy production. If that amount of energy production and economy could be put IN to the countries of North Africa, the stability and infrastructure of the region would improve drastically. What better leapfrog technology than solar energy in North Africa? The $555 billion price tag could easily micro-finance thousands of local operations in a place where people are literally fighting for economy. If the money and technology are incorporated locally (rather than through a state), the result is infrastructure being designed, used, and sold by the people designing, using and selling it.

Seen on Inhabitat. Images via Inhabitat and DESERTEC Foundation. Niger Delta image from George Osodi AP and the Guardian.

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