Let’s continue from where we stopped from Part 1 of this post.
The Great Green Wall and the Green Great Wall and their possibilities
So now you will say (and you have a right to do so): “This is all good and true, but I came here for the free part, not a lecture in marketing, profits and distant and plausible futures.”. Sadly I will have to delay the unveiling of the “free” part and give a small lecture about a couple of projects some of you might not have heard.
One is the Great Green Wall, a wall made of trees that will try to stop the advent of the Saharan Desert. It is an ongoing project, one that I believe will last for a very long time, that span the entirety of the south regions of the Saharan Desert and is an a shared project between countries. I believe the great success is not only the containment of the desert, but the collaboration between nations, the expansion of the scope of the project to better the food access and quality of those living in the affected areas, the promotion of collaboration between citizens of different countries, cultures and religions and states and most importantly the prove that co-existence and tolerance are possible.
The other project is the Green Great Wall is another similar project, but restricted only to China, that aims to contain the Gobi Desert. This project has met many setbacks and issues, that have created a large skepticism and criticism towards the project. Nevertheless the original idea is a good one and with appropriate corrective measurements (and the will to continue the project) it could achieve its potential.
What two desert reclamation projects have to do with renewable energy (and free you might add)?
Did you know that only a small percentage (about 6%) of the Saharan Desert is needed to provide the World with (Solar) energy?
So maybe Deserts are the key for this proposal and the reclamation projects the path that can be trodden and broadened to be made into a highway for the future and a word associated with death and danger to be associated instead with life and carefulness. It may not be like the Dune Saga (I highly recommend reading it), where a Desert planet is the key for an intergalactic empire, but maybe it will be a turning point in how we perceive and make use of each terrain more appropriately and effectively.
Deserts can form the basis (or backbone) of a worldwide energy infrastructure but we need to bolster them properly.
“But wait a second!” you will say, “There is a project already for that, right?”. You are right there is a project of this concept and it’s called Desertec Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to provide clean energy from deserts around the world. The inital goal is to provide Europe and Northern Africa with energy generated in the Saharan Desert. As you can see and I have stated elsewhere, my ideas are not original (there are more ingenious people out there), nor all that revolutionary, but if each idea and project is a small river, if we direct them to the same course, they will form a bigger river and then all theses ideas could become reality. Also, as far as the Desertec project is concerned, there has been some concern about its realization, due to the political and social instability in Northern Africa.
The idea then that Deserts should form the backbone of an worldwide electrical grid is quite simple in conception. The use of solar plants (either photovoltaic or with concentrated solar power techniques) is an obvious solution, but it could be supplemented with wind farms, where even vertical axis wind turbines could be used, due to the thermal difference between land and air that creates air movement upwards (or downwards depending if we talk about the day or night cycle). If we interconnect the electrical grid, as we have done already for the Internet, then we could benefit from the day-night cycle everywhere on Earth. When Sahara is shrouded in night, the Gobi desert is awash with light and so on.
But this is only the beginning. It is a fact that renewable sources can be a bit unpredictable and this could undermine the whole idea. So how can we strengthen the electrical grid? There are so many options to consider, so I will try to keep it short.
First of all the advent of Smart Grids alongside the better energy efficiency of machines and electrical appliances can give an important boost to the use and distribution of energy.
The encouragement of local and home installations (especially PV) should continue and at the same time encouraging these installations not to be off-grid, so that they can actively participate in this worldwide scheme.
The use of hydroelectric plants is a necessity, since they can be that spike absorbent in most cases besides contributing to the overall production as well. Another idea around hydroelectricity is to use reservoirs for storing water during excess energy production, that can be used later for supplementing the energy production, thus absorbing even more consumption spike in the Grid. Already Norway, a leading country in using hydroelectricity, makes use of this concept and wants to be “Europe’s Green Battery”. That means we can expand this idea to further enhance the worldwide Grid.
Geothermal energy has also a role to play, by providing a bulwark against spikes, since it is a continuously producing source, such as the aforementioned hydroelectricity.
Molten salt technology can be an answer to storing excess solar energy of concentrating type. This will help with adverse and unpredictable weather conditions.
An excellent bulwark to adversities and spike in the Grid can be Bio Energy, whether it is Biomass, Biogas or Biofuel. Although I am a bit skeptical concerning the use of Bio Energy, as it resembles fossil fuel energy production logic, I cannot deny its great usefulness and versatility. Its use is also a great way to make use of, otherwise useless, residues.
Most obvious proposal of all is the use of batteries for storing excess energy and released when necessary. There are already huge installations of batteries and we can expand and better these to help bring stability and reliability the the Grid.
Another obvious proposal is the redundancy of the Grid (again similarly to the Internet), so that even when one transmission section is off there won’t be any disruption to the energy supply.
Finally energy sources such as tidal or ocean current are still underdeveloped to offer something significant, but that does not mean we should stop developing them.
Sadly this all sound extremely easy and reliable, so why isn’t it happening already? We will explore some problems and what means implementing the idea for a low cost to all it in the Third Part of this post next week.