By the year 2050, an estimated global population of 10 billion will demand
approximately two-and-ahalf times the amount of energy consumed today, a
challenge that one European nonprofit organization says can be solved under the
sunlight of Middle Eastern and North African deserts.
“Within six hours
the deserts of the world receive more energy from the sun than humankind
consumes within a year,” said Katrin- Susanne Richter, director of the DESERTEC
Richter was speaking at the fifth annual 2020 Environment
conference on Tuesday, in which representatives from the nonprofit, government,
academic and business sectors from both Israel and abroad discussed goals and
challenges for the future, presented potentially sustainable solutions for
energy consumption and took a look at global preparedness and risk management
plans for times of crises.
The conference was hosted by BMP Moran
Productions, the Environmental Services Company and the Yuval Levy law firm, in
conjunction with Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies
and PricewaterhouseCoopers Israel.
“We are talking about the reduction
and elimination of waste, so I see a very tight connection that this is
happening 30 days ahead of Pessah,” said Prof. Pinhas Alpert, head of Tel Aviv
University’s Porter School of Environment, referring to the tradition of
cleaning out hametz from homes during the upcoming holiday.
In order to
accomplish such reduction, Alpert, speaking by phone Monday, stressed that “the
collaboration of the academy with different environmental organizations” and the
business sector is crucial.
“While in the past we believe that nature is
some sort of infinite resource and that it can absorb waste infinitely, today it
is clear to everybody that taking advantage of these resources year to year is
just not sustainable,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan in his
introductory address, in which he promised to continue addressing this
conference in years to come.
“We have to slam on the brakes,” Richter
agreed in her speech, explaining that there are only 750 billion tons left in
the “global carbon dioxide budget to emit into the atmosphere,” which at today’s
rate of production would already be emitted in under 25 years.
an urgency to find big solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and avoid
catastrophic climate change,” she said.
But the good news, according to
Richter, is that “there is an abundance of clean energy in the
DESERTEC specifically encourages the use of solarthermal energy
in the world’s vast plots of desert, which is particularly convenient because 90
percent of the world’s population lives within 3,000 km. of a desert – a
distance sufficiently close for power transmission, according to
DESERTEC focuses its plans in the EU-MENA region – the
Europe-Middle East-North Africa region – which by the year 2050 will need 7,500
terrawatts of energy per hour per year.
Among renewable energy options,
biomass would be able to produce approximately 890 Twh/year, geothermal: 750,
wind: 1,700 and hydropower: 1,090, Richter said.
But according to
DESERTEC estimates, a solarthermal “highway system,” or grid that would connect
the entire region, would generate 600,000 Twh/year.
This type of
solar-thermal power – called Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP) – has been
in commercial use for more than 20 years around the world, Richter said. Unlike
photovoltaic solar panels, the system uses curved, parabolic mirrors to collect
concentrated sunlight, which in turn heats up synthetic oil that boils water,
which produces steam to drive a turbine.
Combining CSP with other
renewable energy sources in the EU-MENA area, DESERTEC foresees potential for a
“large-scale international integration of renewable energies in a big supersmart
But opening such a grid across European, Middle Eastern and North
African land would not be an easy political feat and would pose huge financial
costs, Richter acknowledged.
“Our experience in talking to governments in
North Africa and the Middle East and Europe is that there’s a great openness to
this, it’s so obvious that this is a very powerful way forward,” she told The
Jerusalem Post following her speech.
“I believe that there’s a lot of
motivation in many government to make it happen – to create the right frameworks
In the Arab countries in particular, Richter sees
participation in such a network as a big opportunity to attract investments and
provide jobs that are desperately needed.
But aside from political
complications, the system would be quite expensive.
“We’re talking about
billions of euros or dollars of investments,” Richter told the Post. “But it is
clear that today this technology is not competitive with fossil fuel, so
obviously it does need some kind of incentives to attract those
And that is a political decision, if countries will want to
build this. As soon as more plants are built, costs will come
Addressing other ways to tackle energy consumption and fossil fuel
emissions, Jonathan M. Weisgall, vice president of legislative and regulatory
affairs at MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, discussed his company’s $4.5
billion investment in building wind farms in the midwest and western
“We see wind as a customer- effective, cost-effective resource and
one that we work very closely with our regulators to deploy,” Weisgall said,
admitting, however, that “wind is an extremely fickle and intermediate resource”
that can die down suddenly, and that “you can generally count on when the sun is
going to shine better than when the wind is going to blow.”
strongest forerunners on the clean energy front, in Weisgall’s opinion, is
“Natural gas is a rising electricity source in US and in
Israel,” he said, calling it a “bridge fuel” to renewables.
“It is a
domestically abundant source in the US, such as it is in Israel in the
One of the biggest problems Weisgall sees in terms of
getting renewable sources a bigger presence in US energy market is that
environmental legislation is nearly impossible to pass through
“We do not have a comprehensive policy and I don’t think we
ever will,” Weisgall said, noting that as opposed to the UK or Israel, the US is
just too large and has too many varying resources spread across the country to
ever create such a policy.
Israeli experts echoed the desire for such a
comprehensive policy here.
“I think that if Israel does not adopt an
environmental policy we will fall behind,” said Prof. Yehuda Kahane, of the
faculty of management at Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of
Business Administration, and the 2011 recipient of the Bickley Founders Award,
the most prestigious award in the insurance industry.
nations “have overtaken us after three decades of negligence,” Kahane added,
stressing that Israel now needs “to take a quantum leap” and “grow at a very
Erdan expressed optimism about Israel’s growth and the
progress of environmental legislation in Israel, noting that “every business,
every industry” is now affected by environmental issues, not simply the
“We see a trend in increased environmental legislation,”
Erdan said. “It’s not some sort of a yoke or burden on the industry but on the
contrary, we produce some sort of a springboard to the commercial sector in
Israel,” he added.
He noted that such legislation will “ensure that
Israeli companies will be competitive and leading and innovative” and that they
“continue and compete in the international market.”
To stay viable in the
market, Erdan said that companies need to be “wise enough to produce and market
materials in such a way that will make it easier to recycle these materials, so
at the end of a cycle we’ll have plenty of materials at a lower
“[Such a company] won’t have to worry about future legislation
because it will already be prepared in advance,” he said.
and risk – a final segment of the conference – could not pass without mentions
of the recent crises in Japan.
“I think that there is no Hollywood
director that could have made a movie that is so powerful and drives a point
home,” said Eitan Silbiger, after showing aerial footage of the disaster,
including oil terminals in flames. “Are we being prepared for these
mega-scenarios? These scenarios where nature rocks us?” But Weisgall said that
despite the disaster, nuclear energy development will not – and cannot – stop
because “there just isn’t enough [power] to go around.”
“We don’t look at
the hazards of nuclear energy in the same way we look at coal. We don’t
look at the thousands of miners who get killed every year mining the coal, not
to mention the asthma,” he said, comparing a nuclear disaster to an airplane
crash, which, while few and far between, is feared by people
“We are wired as people to fear these spectacular events,” he