October – Population Growth

Brighter Tomorrow?

As the population of the world increases dramatically day upon day, the pressure upon how we fuel our societies does too. The over reliance on oil and other non renewable energy sources is beginning to be our undoing and not even the rising prices seem to be slowing down demand anytime soon.

According to statistic site Worldometers, which keeps track of the numbers on things ranging from population to the amount of tweets sent in a day, we currently have less than 39 years worth of oil remaining. To illustrate the point further, this writer will be around a decade away from retirement in his chosen career once the last barrel of oil is emptied; well, as long as whatever governments we have don’t increase retirement age once again that is.

But this doesn’t take into account any rises in the world population. Any baby booms, which are very likely to happen, could make the remaining fuel run out even faster. Countless decades have been spent trying to find alternative ways to heat our homes and power our cars to relatively no avail for the long term. Not yet anyway.

“One thing I feel sure of… is that the human race must finally utilise direct sun power or revert to barbarism.”

Around about a century after Frank Shuman stated those words, which landed on deaf ears for the most part at the time, it seems hauntingly a lot more accurate, like, shock and behold, he may have been right.

Again, according to Worldometers, 2,668,320,260,511MWh of solar energy has struck our planet in the last 24 hours; yes you did read that correctly – 2,668,320,260,511MWh. To put it into context for you, the total amount of energy used in the same period of time is only just under 359,000,000MWh; just under 291,000,000 of which is produced via non renewable sources.

Sure, the sun potentially being an answer to our energy needs has never been a secret, but the sheer scale of what humans could do to harness it’s power has been under looked, until now.

The DESERTEC Foundation, a group of wealthy individuals, businesses, scientists and politicians, say their vision is it “supply as many people and businesses as possible with renewable, clean energy from the deserts and arid regions of the earth. This should provide opportunities for prosperity for lots of people and protect the climate.”

Considering that one fifth of the earths surface is desert, with this getting larger due to desertification, it makes sense that we begin making these hostile and baron stretches of land useful to use; that is other than for giving Bear Grylls or Ray Mears somewhere to trek through when they’re not up a mountain.

Their plan, which can be viewed HERE on the Guardian website, is to build concentrated solar panel plants throughout the northern region of Africa, along with various other methods of creating renewable energy dotted throughout Europe and Asia.

Concentrated solar panel plants use hundreds or thousands of mirrors to concentrate the suns light in one particularly area, causing heat and most importantly, steam to be created which is used to turn the turbines. A great example of this technology being used is the Gemasolar plant situated in Villanueva del Rey, Spain, which guarantees power to 25,000 homes in Andalusia, while reducing CO2 emissions by 30,000 tons per year.

Gemasolar plant in Spain

The success of this, compounded by it winning the DESERTEC Award, has led to American search engine giants Google providing SunEdison Inc. with $145m to build a plant at a one time oil field in Kern County north of Los Angeles.

“These regions are ideally suited to the use of renewable energy. There solar energy is abundant and constantly available. About 1% of the desert surface of the earth would be enough, in theory, to provide all humankind with energy,” it continues.

“With technology available today, this energy can be converted into electricity and transported to centers of demand. High-voltage direct-current technology can transmit this electricity up to 3000 km with low losses. Once you realize that about 90% of the world population lives within 3000 km of the deserts and arid regions of the world, the incredible potential of the DESERTEC Concept is clear.”

Unfortunately, it isn’t as perfect as it sounds; plans to build one of these giant solar farms in Morocco fell through after financial backers, including the Spanish government, fell through as the money, mostly from taxes, was too much for them to part with.

On the Forbes website, entrepreneur Mark Rogowsky answered a question put to him regarding putting solar panels in the desert to create energy by saying, “This is a great idea, but… We don’t own the Sahara desert.

He continued “the Sahara is “owned” by Africans in at least 11 countries. Many of those countries are not exactly paragons of political stability (e.g. Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia).”

Along with his latter point, Daniel Ayuk Mbi Egbe from the African Network for Solar Energy said in the Guardian that “Many Africans are sceptical [about Desertec],

“[Europeans] make promises, but at the end of the day, they bring their engineers, they bring their equipment, and they go. It’s a new form of resource exploitation, just like in the past.”

There are plenty of social, economical, ecological and political factors to take into consideration when discussing this subject which makes it a mine field, a tricky problem with an even trickier answer. Despite this it is not something we can shirk away from, it is something that needs looking into more. Cliché or not, it may cost a lot now monetarily but further down the line, let’s say in 39 years, it could cost us a hell of a lot more.

It may be something which is never totally resolved and we will always be a little bit dependent on non renewable sources but maybe even we are able to cut the amount of them used by more than 50% it could potentially significant increase the amount of time we have before they all run out on us.

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