Problems that can prevent this idea from taking shape and some possible workarounds.
One of the biggest problems is in the realm of politics. There are border tensions between many countries that could create a problem for the interconnections between all countries, but also in some cases there are border issues concerning desert space that will prove problematic for the energy production itself. It is a problem that the the already mentioned Desertec Foundation project has faced. As with everything else discussed here, it is obvious that local interests and power struggles create a volatile environment in which to achieve global cooperation. National pride, historical grudges, corruption, religion, political prestige and narrow-minded and inadequate leaders that have disconnected from the realities of surviving in the modern world are the reason behind all this. Until we learn to cooperate in depth we will slowly and painfully expire as a species sooner that we thought. It is imperative that we started taking a more active everyday stand in all matters that we can, so that we can start bypassing these meaningless concepts and attitudes.
Another issue are the interconnections themselves. There is a high concern that the cable losses will prove counter-efficient to this whole scheme. There are two possible solutions for this and a way to cushion the effect of these losses. One solution is the use of Aluminum cables, that have reduced losses, for the lengthier interconnections. The other solution is the over-sizing of the system, so as to absorb these losses and other perturbations. The way to lessen the effect of the losses is to use the least lengthy paths for these connections. If we take into account that we talk about using solar, wind and other forms of renewable sources, instead of taking the same path as the Internet Cables take through the oceans, we should utilize less used locations. For example Greenland, that stands between Europe and Northern America, can be one of these paths and at the same time we can use Greenland as as place for off-shore and on-shore wind parks. Another point of interest is between Alaska and Siberia, were there are no Internet interconnecting cables, something I believe has to do not only with costs but with political realities (as describe in the first problem). Another less traveled path is that from the Coast of Brazil to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and adjacent countries, once again due to political instability in the region (and once more politics is the main issue).
The overall cost of the project is another problem. An estimation for such a worldwide project is not feasible at the moment, but we are talking about Billions of Euros in infrastructure and equipment.But compared to the estimated cost of 25 Billions of USD for the construction of a Border Wall, it is a worthwhile idea. Just to give a dimension reference if this project costs 1 Trillion Euros to complete, that means that each living person this moment on earth (7,48 Billions) would have to contribute around 135 Euros. Compared to the life-long benefits of the project it is not an important amount of money, even though in some countries this is almost half of the GNI (Gross National Income). In a world of morality and compassion we should not demand equal contributions. Do not forget that the dominant West Society was build on the bones of Slaves, land-grabbing, resource appropriation and mass murder.
Cost per person on the planet can be as low as 135 Euros. A small amount for a cleaner, energy-secure future for all.
The carbon footprint of producing the equipment needed for this project to happen may cause some concern. It is inevitable that at the beginning of such endeavor there will be a rise in the emission of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases for manufacturing the vast amount of equipment needed. This will be offset in about 2 to 3 years for most of the equipment. This leaves a much lower carbon footprint for all future use. Even if there is a need for every 10 years to replace a 5% of the overall equipment, the amount of energy generated will be, quickly, the equivalent of the amount of energy needed for its generation.
This project will of course have a heavy impact on employment. This will create a disruption in existing energy generating companies and their personnel and at the same time create a short term need for employment for the manufacturing process. When the project is nearing the operational phase a need for long term employment across the globe will manifest. A first measure is to offer places in the project to people already working in the energy sector. This will not only minimize the disruption effect, but will also capture the already accumulated know-how. Another measure is to offer a decentralized manufacturing process, so as to lessen the impact it could have both on human resources and carbon footprint if all production was focused in only one place. At the same time positions in the long term phase can be offered in those involved in the manufacturing process, so there will be a continuity in the employment, but also a more profound link will be created for those people with the project, something that is desirable in an ideal working environment. As with the Great Green Wall we have already mentioned, there has also been a cooperation between people from different nations, which is something that can lead to a future of understanding, equality and sense of common purpose and common future. Getting back to the manufacturing process, another way to minimize the effect of the short-term nature of the process, is to dedicate a small part of the employees to constitute in the operational phase of the project the hardware maintenance teams, or even the reserve teams for emergency cases.
There are many more problems that can be highlighted, but I believe these are the most important to look into at the beginning. Next week we will continue with Part 4 of this post talking about the benefits and additional actions that can make this not only feasible, but also more robust.