NEW YORK-With the United Nations Rio+20 Conference looming, the topic of energy is becoming increasingly important. The United Nations and governments around the world are beginning to call for a weaning off dirty fuel sources like coal, oil, and gas, and embrace clean renewables. One renewable that holds tremendous promise for developing, low income countries come from the source of life itself; the sun.
Solar energy is not new. In fact, early solar technologies were experimented with as early as the 1860’s, when early-day environmentalist feared the deleterious effects of coal on their environment. But what is new is just how accessible and affordable these technologies are becoming, and how urgent their utilization is in a world suffocating under the weight of carbon emissions.
Of all the natural resources held by developing countries, the one most abundant is solar light. Small island countries, which account for thirty eight of the world’s developing countries, are awash in the stuff. In Africa, home of thirty three of the world’s forty eight Least Developed Counties, vast swaths of land absorb sunlight which, more or less, goes to waste. Using the almost limitless power of the sun, and newly available technologies, these countries could become energy independent and clean in one stroke.
One company working to use new technology to build a working solar energy system is Desertec. Working in the Sahara, Desertec is currently in the process of constructing massive solar farms that absorb the massive power of the sun in the desert and convert it into usable energy. The consequences of this project could be enormous.
Experts have suggested that some .03 percent of the sunlight that hits the Sahara desert could provide all the power needed to keep Europe going. Harnessing this force and offering it to both the developed countries of Europe and the developing countries of Africa could go a long way in breaking petroleum’s stranglehold on energy markets.
“Sufficient clean power can be generated in the world's deserts to supply humankind with enough electricity on a sustainable basis,” say Desertec’s officials.“Desertec is an integrated concept which includes energy security and climate protection as well as drinking water production, socio-economic development, security policy and international cooperation.”
Could Desertec work? The logistics involved in its operation are staggering. Between funding, unpredictable weather, and political uncertainty (the biggest project is currently underway in revolution-rocked Tunisia), the initiative is still far from a sure thing. But as the world struggles to break its carbon addiction and, in the spirit of Rio, use safer, cleaner, renewable energy, Desertec offers a way forward.