Friday, June 22, 2007

Star (as in solar) TREC

In 1972 The Club of Rome published what quickly became a very controversial report called "Limits To Growth". It modeled the consequences of a rapidly growing world population and finite resource supplies, and essentially predicted that the world was headed for some major problems. It was criticized for being too "Malthusian" in tone and for not taking into account human inventiveness and ingenuity.One of the main conclusions of the report was that within a time span of less than 100 years with no major change in the physical, economic, or social relationships that have traditionally governed world development, society will run out of the nonrenewable resources on which the industrial base depends. While some of the assumptions of the model used in the Club of Rome's analysis may not have been absolutely correct, leading to some miscalculations of target dates for milestones like peak oil, I think it would be hard to argue with their conclusion.

The report also concluded that piecemeal approaches to solving the individual problems will not be successful. TREC -- the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation is all about avoiding the Malthusian cul-de-sac by creating synergies via regional/global cooperation. This is the kind of (socio-cultural) innovation that demonstrates that we really do have more options than we think. Very exciting stuff! (GW)

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is an initiative, in the field of renewable forms of energy, of The Club of Rome, the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation and the National Energy Research Center of Jordan (NERC).

The core of TREC is an international network of scientists, politicians and experts in the field of renewable forms of energy and their development. The members of TREC (nearly 50 in number including His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan) are in regular contact with national governments and with private investors, aiming to communicate the benefits that may be obtained from the cooperative use of solar and wind energy and promoting specific projects in this field.

Since it was founded in September 2003, it has developed the DESERTEC concept for energy, water and climate security in EUrope, the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA), building on the cooperation of sun-belt and technology belt. Now TREC is making this concept a reality in cooperation with people in politics, industry and the world of finance.

The DESERTEC concept of TREC is to boost the generation of electricity and desalinated water by Solar Thermal Power Plants and wind turbines in MENA and to transmit the clean electrical power via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines throughout those areas and as from 2020 (with overall just 10-15% transmission losses) to Europe. The technologies that are needed for the realisation of this concept are already fully developed and have been in use for decades. Several studies by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) confirm the viability and usefulness of realising this concept very soon.

The DESERTEC Concept and the Studies

Download a Summary Version: 09 April 2007 (PDF, 350 kb) Arabic, English, German, French, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish The Situation

On the one hand it's certain that up to the middle of the 21st century, humanity will have used up a majority of the fossil fuel resources available on Earth to meet the demands of power plants and vehicles (see also Peak Oil). A noticeable reduction in worldwide demands for fossil fuels is not in sight, although such a reduction is essential to contain the threat of Global Warming. And on the other hand it's also certain, that even if there was some reduction in demand, this would merely postpone the day when fossil fuels run out.

Consequently only a shift to renewable forms of energy can be a long-term solution to looming problems of energy shortages and damage to the environment. Even though there is great potential in the European continent for wind, hydro, geothermal and solar power, the utilization of these sources of energy has a range of limitations in Europe, densely populated as it is. When the renewable sources of Europe and The Middle East/North-Africa were combined, the EU-MENA region would be in a much improved position to shift to clean and secure energy rapidly and economically.

Two Studies by DLR

TREC was founded with the goal of providing clean energy for Europe and for sunbelt countries quickly and economically through a cooperation between the countries of EUrope, the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA). Power from deserts, as a supplement to European sources of renewable energy, can speed up the process of cutting European emissions of CO2 and it can help to increase the security of European energy supplies. At the same time, it can provide jobs, earnings, drinking water and other benefits for people in North Africa and the Middle East.

TREC has been involved in the conduct of two studies which have evaluated the potential of renewables in MENA, the expected needs for water and power in EU-MENA between now and 2050 and the potential for an intercontinental electricity transmission grid spanning the whole of EU-MENA. Those two studies were commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and, starting in 2004, they have been conducted by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The ‘MED-CSP’ study was produced in 2005 and the ‘TRANS-CSP’ study was completed in 2006.

The DESERTEC Concept

Satellite-based studies by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have shown that, using less than 0.3% of the entire desert areas of the MENA region, Solar Thermal Power Plants can generate enough electricity to supply current demands in EU-MENA, and anticipated increases in those demands in the future. In addition, it has potential to alleviate shortages of fresh water in the MENA regions. The trade winds of southern Morocco may be harnessed to generate additional supplies of electricity. Clean electricity can be transmitted via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines throughout EU-MENA with overall transmission losses that would be no more than 10-15%. The Club of Rome and TREC are both supporting this DESERTEC concept of putting technology and deserts into service for energy, water and climate security. Countries like Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and the United Emirates have already shown a strong interest in this kind of cooperation.

The Technology

The best solar power technology for providing secure capacity is solar thermal power plants (also called Concentrating Solar Thermal Power, CSP). They use mirrors to concentrate sunlight to raise steam and generate electricity. Excess heat from additional collectors can be stored in tanks of molten salt and then be used to power the steam turbines during the night, or when there is a peak in demand. In order to ensure uninterrupted service during overcast periods or bad weather, the turbines can also be powered by oil, natural gas or biomass fuels. An interesting by-product that can be a great benefit to the local population is that waste heat from the power-generation process can be used to desalinate seawater and to generate thermal cooling.

With the technology of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power, transmission losses can be limited to only about 3% per 1000 km. The better solar radiation in MENA outweighs by far the transmission losses across the Mediterranean of 10-15% to Europe. Although hydrogen has in the past been proposed as an energy vector, this form of transmission is very much less efficient than HVDC transmission lines.


The technologies that are needed to realise this concept are already fully developed and have been in use for decades. HVDC transmission lines up to 1.5 GW capacity have been utilized for many years by ABB and Siemens. If more power is to be transmitted, more than one line can be used. At the World Energy Dialogue 2006 in Hanover, Germany, both companies have confirmed that the implementation of a Trans-Mediterranean energy cooperative is, technically, not a problem at all.

Solar Thermal Power Plants such as, for example Parabolic Trough Power Plants, have been in use commercially at Kramer Junction in California since 1985. Further solar power plants are actually planned or in construction e.g. in Nevada and Spain, with German, Spanish and US companies playing a major role. Solar Thermal Power Plants can generate electricity in the deserts of MENA at all times of the day and night, throughout the year. The DLR has calculated that, if Solar Thermal Power Plants were to be constructed in large numbers in the coming years, the estimated cost (including transmission cost) will come down from 9-22 EuroCent/kWh to about 5 EuroCent/kWh.

In order to establish, by 2050, a transmission grid and a capacity of 100 GW of exportable solar power, over and above the domestic needs of Sunbelt countries, the required governmental financial support would be less than 10 billion Euros. Given that level of support for feed-in regulations, the construction of the solar power plants and the necessary transmission grid would very soon be attractive to investors, both private and public. The total investment that would be needed would be about 400 billion Euros over 30 years. An exact investment forecast for the TRANS-CSP scenario has been researched by the DLR.

Security of Supply

Imports of fuels such as uranium, natural gas and oil, are considered to be politically risky, since the global reserves are shrinking inexorably. This is leading to higher prices, to political dependencies and to limits on supplies. By contrast, solar power is plentiful and inexhaustible, and its extended use will lower costs and improve the technologies. Increased demand by Europe would lead to more business opportunities for the MENA countries. This in turn may help to increase political stability and improve relations between Europe and MENA.

Too large a dependence on one country and on only a few power plants can be avoided by diversifying the range of sources of renewable energy, as illustrated by the figures showing large numbers of solar power plants and wind farms in many countries — and by of the use of several different HVDC transmission lines to Europe. Possible worries about security of supply will also be reduced if there are many different owners of the facilities, both public and private.

By 2050, between 10-25% of Europe’s electricity may be clean power that is imported from the deserts. International trade in renewable energy will tend to increase the number of available sources and should help to strengthen international stability. The creation of new jobs in the MENA region should enhance its internal stability. Employment would be created in construction phase, in the maintenance of power plants, and in the generation of electricity and water for local people.

There is also the possibility of generating hydrogen through inexpensive and inexhaustible supplies of energy as a possible substitute for fossil fuels for transport. Furthermore there would be a lower need of biomass to generate electricity, so it could be used to a greater extent for transport.

A way to implement the DESERTEC concept


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