An interesting article over on New Scientist today about the Desertec project, a German initiative which looks like it might receive a substantial amount of investment from a conglomerate of corporations. Projects such as this are a welcome sign, as it means that the need for alternative energy sources is really picking up steam (pun intended). However, the article also highlights many possible downsides of such a project – with the question being, could it cause more problems then it is worth?
The costs of such a project are huge, running into the hundreds of billions, but nobody denies that such efforts are unnecessary; just that there might be better ways to pursue them. As it stands, Desertec seems like a project that has more than a small element of wishful thinking surrounding many of the requirements for its successful implementation. Questions surrounding the exploitation of African countries for European power supply; the more immediate concerns of political stability of the region; and the logistical practicalities of such a monumental undertaking are just some of the criticisms that the project faces.
In the end there will not be a single answer to global energy concerns. What is needed are a number of avenues for alternative energy that work in tandem with one another, not least of which to ensure that there is no dependence on a particular power source or method of obtaining it. We also just cannot presume that there will not be social, political, and economic difficulties – which will only be exacerbated when asking for co-operation and sharing of such alternative energy resources over large distances.
Having said this, the Desertec project has the capability to be providing 15% of the power needs for the very large area of Europe by 2050 – an amount that is certainly nothing to scoff at and dismiss without some very serious consideration. Given that the project might soon find some very large backing – to the tune of 400 billion Euros – this could be an experiment that is going to take place regardless of those who would speak against it.
For all of the well-founded criticism surrounding it, projects such as Desertec should be closely considered and, at the very least, recognised as an attempt to solve what could rapidly become the most challenging and pressing problem that humanity faces over the next century. Whether it might prove to be reaching beyond its practical grasp is yet to be seen, but without attempts to try and engender such large-scale solutions we could very quickly find that we have spent so much time debating that nothing is properly implemented in time.
What do you think of the Desertec project? Are the resources needed to bring it to completion better off spent engineering home-grown solutions to alternative energy supply? Or is it to be excitedly recommended as a proactive attempt to solve issues surrounding climate change?