Our Astonishing Solar Future.

Guy Dauncey
Email: guydauncey@earthfuture.com

It is important to dream. Over the thousands of years of our history most great things have been initiated by dreamers—and implemented by practical doers. I’m sure Masdar City, with its 22 hectares of solar panels, began as a dream in someone’s mind.

Today we are in dire need of dreaming. The miraculous fossil fuels that powered us into the industrial age have become a nightmare. Their ancient carbon is trapping heat in the atmosphere, causingair pollution and climate chaos and severely threatening our future and our children’s future.

Without them, however, we would never have been able to develop the science and engineering skills needed to makesolar panels and electric cars. On the other hand, if we continue to extract and burnthem our future will be nasty, brutish and short. According to many climate reports, most of the world’s reserves of coal, oil and gas will need to stay in the ground, if we are not to destroy our civilization and the gift of nature that supports us.1

A Wistful Dream

Ten years ago solar energy was still a wistful dream. Today, it is a practical, affordable dream. In 2014, the Dubai Electricity and Water authority signed a contract with the Saudi Arabian power company ACWA to build a 200 MW solar power plant for a 25-year unsubsidized world-breaking price of 5.84 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared to 9 cents for gas-fired generation, which produces 99% of the UEA’s power. After 25 years, the entire income from the plant will go to the owners.2

Today, the UAE consumes 82,000 Giga watt hours of electricity a year, only1% of which comes from renewables, the rest from fossil fuels. The UEA is small, with 83,000 square kilometres of land, but if 1,640 square kilometres - 2% of its area - was converted into solar farmswith a capacity of 47 GWit could produce all the power it needs.

Imagine 400 small solar farms, each a square kilometre in size, dusted by water-free solar brushing robots to keep the panels clear of sand, as Israel is doing at the Ketura Sun Solar Park in the Negev desert.3

Morocco could meet all its power
needs on 0.1% of its area

Solar power is a natural for North Africa and the Middle East, from Morocco to Iran, since the peak load comes at midday. Morocco could meet all its power needs on 0.1% of its area, Saudi Arabia on 0.2%, Iran on 0.24% and Egypt on 0.26% of it area. At the high end of the scale, Lebanon could do it on 3%, Jordan on 3.2% and Israel on 6%.

What about transportation? The price of electric batteries is falling steadily, and by 2020-2025 there will be electric cars on the market at the same price as conventional cars, but costing six times less to run. The market will respond, and by 2030 electric vehicles will dominate everywhere. Electric buses are already on the roads of Europe and North America, self-financing their cost over 12 years through their energy savings, and railway electrification has already happened in many parts of the world.

Egypt currently consumes 130,000 GWh of power, and its people drive seven million cars. If all the cars were electric, travelling 10,000 kilometres a year, Egypt would need an additional 14,000 GWh a year. At 50 GWh per square kilometre, that would require 280 square kilometres of solar farmson 0.03% of Egypt’s area.

Wind Energy in Egypt

Egypt also has 80,000 MW ofwind energy potential along the Gulf of Suez, the north coast, South Sinai,

East Oweinat and the Gelf Ridge, able to produce 210,000 GWh a year, assuming a 30% capacity factor4, and the price of unsubsidized wind power has fallen as low as 4 cents/kwh in the US plains.5 The 360 MW Zafarana Wind Farm, on the Red Sea, is Africa’s largest wind farm.

And the price of solar PV will fall further yet. The Dubai price of 5.84 cents/kwh is the world’s lowest, but Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute estimates that by 2050 solar PV may cost as little as 2-4 cents kwh.6

What about storage? The Tesla Power wall battery costs around $8,000 for 10 kwh by the time it is installed, but the price is sure to fall. A US power utility has already purchased a kit that will store 250 MWh. At the Power wall’s launch, Elon Musk told his audience that a 1 GWh Power Pack installation could power a city the size of Boulder, Colorado (population 105,000) on solar power alone.7

The Cities and Villages of the Future

So now we can dream ofthe cities and villages of the future. The solar and wind capacities of the Middle East North Africa region are far greater than current consumption, including population growth and future electric vehicles. The outstanding problems for renewable energy are long-distance trucking, shipping and flying. The renewable energy surplus could be used to generate hydrogen; there may also be a breakthrough in batteries, enabling long-distance trucking.

How does solar compare to oil? A solar square kilometre in Qatar or Saudi Arabia can produce the same energy in a year as 1.5 million barrels of oil. Qatar produces 547 million barrels a year, so it could produce the solarequivalent on 365 square kilometers.

Saudi Arabia produces 4 billion barrels a year, so its solar equivalent would require 2,700 square kilometers, just over 1,000th of its area.8 The oil will run out—nobody disputes that. The Sun, on the other hand, will not turn into a Red Giant until several billion years have passed, and with every passing year, solar technologies will improve and fall in price. Just imagine—a billion years of falling prices.

What is the secret to unlock the miracle? First, it needs public education, so that people can dream, and see beyond fossil fuels. Next, it needs good public policy, with feed-in tariffs and regulations that make life easy for the investors and installers. And finally it needs financing, whether privately, or through green bonds, or through public banking, creating the credit needed at the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse, just as the world’s private banks have been doing for centuries.

In as little as five years, all this will seem normal.9

Guy Dauncey is a speaker, authorand eco-futurist who works to develop a positive vision of a sustainable future and to translate that vision into action. He is founder of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and the author or co-author of nine books, including the award-winning The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming. He is currently completing Journey to the Future: A Better World Is Possible.

He is an Honorary Member of the Planning Institute of BC. He lives on Vancouver Island, in western Canada. His website is www.earthfuture.com.

References:

  • Study: World must leave most fossil fuels underground to avert warming. Al Jazeera America, Jan 8, 2015. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/8/climate-change-oil.html
  • UAE beats renewables cost hurdle with world’s cheapest price for solar energy. The National, Jan 18, 2015. www.thenational.ae/business/energy/uae-beats-renewables-cost-hurdle-with-worlds-cheapest-price-for-solar-energy The UAE - The Hub of the Next Energy Revolution? RE100 2015. www.theclimategroup.org/_assets/files/RE100-UAE-brief.pdf
  • Eccoppia’s waterless robots completely clean solar panel dust in Israel. Green Prophet, March 31, 2014. http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/03/ketura-sun-solar-park-deployed-an-army-of-robots-to-clean-their-panels-in-israel
  • Egypt - GENI. www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/energytrends/currentusage/renewable/wind/global-wind-resources/egypt/index.shtml
  • Solar & Wind Power Prices Often Lower Than Fossil Fuel Power Prices. Clean Technica, April 13, 2015. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/04/13/solar-wind-power-prices-often-lower-fossil-fuel-power-prices/
  • Cost Of Solar PV Will Fall To 2 Cents/kWh In 2050, Says Fraunhofer Study. Clean Technica, March 25, 2015. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/03/25/cost-of-solar-pv-will-fall-to-2-centskwh-in-2050-says-fraunhofer-study/
  • Tesla Unveils Tesla Power: Modular 10-kWh PowerWall for Home, 100-kWh PowerPack for Utilities, at Live Event. Transport Evolved, May 1, 2015. https://transportevolved.com/2015/05/01/tesla-unveils-tesla-power-modular-10-kwh-battery-for-home-100-kwh-battery-for-utilities-at-live-event
  • Qatar energy data (EIA): www.eia.gov/countries/country-data.cfm?fips=qa
    Saudi Arabia data (EIA): www.eia.gov/countries/country-data.cfm?fips=SA&trk=m
  • The Gulf's bright solar-powered future. Aljazeera, Jan 23, 2014. www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/01/gulf-bright-solar-powered-future-201412363550740672.html
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