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Desert solar power

El Hassan bin Talal

El Hassan Bin TalalExcerpt from the adress given by His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan to The Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue WEST ASIA – NORTH AFRICA AND THE EURO-ATLANTIC:Finding Common Solutions to Shared Challenges

Thanks to the availability of fossil fuels human populations and human development have developed to a point where continued expansion cannot occur without seve­rely over-shooting the carrying capacity of planet Earth. Social and natural systems are endangered.
The most comprehensive threat to the natural world and to the develop­ment of civilisation is the man-made challenge to the global climate, which comes as a result of powering our pre­sent forms of civilistion with fossil fuels. The global and the local climates may change faster than natural and social systems can adapt.
By changing our global climate, we also change local living conditions with potentially severe implications for plants, animals and humans. Food chains may be interrupted. Populations of plants and animals may change. Infrastructure for human civilisation may be flooded or blown away. Climate change is an assault on the developed forms of life which have emerged through long processes of evolution.
The use of fossil fuels, which enabling human civilisation to develop and to function, has now become a threat to our natural living conditions.
Can compatibility between civilisa­tion and the natural world be restored, in view of a world population approa­ching 10 billion, with growing economic needs?
Such a renewed compatibility would require a form of energy that would not harm our natural living spa­ces and threaten their resilience. Renewable energy, and in particular so­lar energy, could be used to power our growing civilisation and provide fresh water from desalination without har­ming our natural living environ­ment.
In fact, there is around 10,000 ti­mes more energy coming from the sun than would be needed for powering human civilisation. This solar energy comes as light at day and returns to outer space as heat radiation at throu­ghout the day and night, whether it has been “used” or not. The use of solar ener­gy – or of any other form of renewable energy – should then be done in an “environmentally com­pati­ble way” which leaves the environment unaffected. As a counter-example, the building of large dams for hydropower or growing of energy plants in large mono­cultures may not fulfil this criterion.
How can we reclaim energy from renewable and clean sources in envi­ronmentally compatible ways at a scale that matches present and expected consumption of energy?
Here the desserts of the earth can play a key role. They receive about 700 times more energy from the sun than humankind consumes by burning fossil fuels, day by day. Dessers are the pla­ces with the best solar radiation conditions and with the least possible impact of collector deployment onto the biosphere on earth.
In desserts, clean power can be produced by solar thermal power plants (CSP) in a truly sustainable way and at any volume of conceivable de­mand. Power can be transmitted with low losses by High Voltage Direct Cur­rent (HVDC) lines to more than 90% of the world’s population. This gives the desserts a new role: Together with the many other forms of accessible rene­wable energy, the newly utilised des­sert would enable us to replace fossil fuels and thus end the ongoing des­truc­tion of our natural living conditions.
Eumena - Similar to EC

To put this into practice, countries with desserts, countries with high ener­gy demand and countries with tech­no­logy competence must cooperate. This is an opportunity for the Mediter­ra­nean riparian regions of Europe, the Mid­dle East and North Africa (EUMENA) to form a community for energy, water and climate security – with some similarities to the Com­munity of Coal and Steel established in Europe some 60 years ago – for a prosperous and peaceful future.
More than 40 years ago, the Apollo Space program was launched to fulfil the old dream of taking man into outer space. Today, we have a bigger dream, to restore balance between man and his home planet, Earth. With the poli­tical will, EUMENA countries would now launch an Apollo-like EUMENA-DESER­TEC Program, to bring humankind back into balance with its environment, by putting desserts and technology into service for energy, water and climate security. This would be an important step towards creating a truly sustainable civilization.
An EU-WANA  Water and Energy Community
At the very top of the agenda should be the establishment of a supra-national non-partisan Water and Energy Community – an institutional fra­mework providing new incentives for the management and protection of com­mon resources, this framework has to go beyond the conventional “gre­ening” approach. Remember that the US dollar (the current reserve cur­rency of choice) is fundamentally linked to global crude oil and even if every business were to adopt a gre­ening agenda, crude oil would still remain the most important ingredient of economic growth and the profit and wage incentives in these “green” businesses would still be denominated in dollar values linked directly to oil. We therefore have to look elsewhere for a comprehensive and durable solution.
As a promoter of the DESERTEC initiative, I would like to convey some of the unique and ground-breaking features of this project. Solar radiation is the largest accessible but least used form of energy on Earth. It is essen­tia­lly a virtually inexhaustible supply of solar energy. On a daily basis, the world’s desserts receive about 700 times more energy from the sun than humankind presently consumes in fossil fuels.
The DESERTEC project aims to tap into solar and wind power from these energy-rich desert areas. The use of HVDC (High-Voltage Direct Current transmission lines) facilitates efficient transfer with projected losses of less than 5% per every 1000 kms. Desertec scientists project that in 40 years, solar thermal power plants could generate over half of the electricity needs of the entire EU-WANA  region. The benefits of adopting this initiative catapult across several spheres. Take for example the fact that the freshwater crisis in the Middle east could be resolved through sea­water desalination. However desa­lina­tion currently requires the combus­tion of large amounts of fossil fuels. In the long run, powering desalination through renewable energy would be cheaper – both financially and ecolo­gically.
So too the scope for job creation in solar plant and collector production would give the region a much needed economic boost. According to the recently released DESERTEC red pa­per, “the construction of only one 250 MW parabolic through plant requires 1,000 workers and engineers for a period of two to three years.”  This creation of jobs could lead to a “brain-regain” and we can begin to reverse the “education as an export industry” trend. As things stand, most Arab natio­ns train to export. I remember asking some Wharton trained Jorda­nians when they would return home. They said to me “when you institute a meri­tocracy; when we can get ahead on what we know and not who we know.”
Another critical component of a pre­ventative security regime is a regio­nal institution for water mana­gement. Estimates project that by 2025, water scarcity could affect up to 5 billion people (about 1.7 billion people are already affected.) Climate change im­pli­cations exacerbate this impending crisis; increased drought, precipitation, evaporation as well as the overall retardation of the hydrological cycle all threaten to further devastate already dry regions.
Water Shortages in Middle East may be solved
The Middle East already faces existential water shortages. Moreover, the region already lags behind in water infrastructure development and an aggravation in droughts would largely ravage this area. Water consumption has been doubling every 20 years and clean water supplies are coming under enormous strain. A regional institution for water management would develop agreements for the sharing of water re­sour­ces, water and irrigation projects, and the sharing of expertise and data on drip irrigation, water absorption, transpiration of plants, watershed dy­na­mics, water basins, sedimen­tation, withdrawal from aquifers, water sto­rage, deterioration of water quality and increased hydropower demands.
In our efforts to find durable solu­tions to the energy and water crisis, we must always remember how we got here in the first place. We find our­selves in this ecological and resource quagmire because we were reckless to the fact that our ecosystem has a carrying capacity – an ecological infrastructure. In our attempts to mitigate the effects of this impending crisis, let us remember that our harvesting of natural resources cannot exceed regeneration rates. So too our waste emissions should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment. If we ignore these basic parameters, nature may soon be instituting bankruptcy procedures against industrial civilisation.

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, a pluralist believing in consensus and respect for the other, His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal believes in societies in which all peoples can live, work and function in freedom and with dignity. This goal has been the moving force behind his interest and involvement in humanitarian and interfaith issues, with particular stress on the human dimension of conflicts. His Royal Highness has initiated, founded and is actively involved in a number of Jordanian and international institutes and committees. HRH served as a member of the UN's Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, chairs the Integrity Council for the Coalition for the Global Commons, and recently initiated the West Asia – North Africa Forum. In 1983, he co-chaired the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues (ICIHI) calling for a New International Humanitarian Order. HRH is President and Patron of the Arab Thought Forum, and Chairman of the Higher Council for Science and Technology, the Royal Scientific Society and the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies. Prince Hassan is the author of nine books.
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