Several years ago, scientists determined that a small section of the Sahara desert, amounting to just over 1 percent of its total area, could provide as much electricity as all of the world’s power plants combined.
Now, Europe is looking to harness the heat of the African desert for solar energy, since about 0.3 percent of the light falling on the Sahara could power the whole of Europe. European Union members have considered implementing a long-term program over the next several decades.
Masimba Biriwasha is a citizen journalist from Zimbabwe who writes at OhMyNews to discuss what Europe’s plans would mean for Africa and argue that any initiative should benefit both Europe and Africa.
Europe seeks to harvest African sun
According to a news report recently published in the United Kingdom’s Guardian, European nations are planning to harvest the sun in the Sahara desert in Africa to “provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe” but there is no mention of how such a development will also benefit Africa.
“Vast farms of solar panels in the Sahara desert could provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe, according to EU scientists working on a plan to pool the region’s renewable energy,” reports the newspaper.
As the world continues to investigate energy sources that are environmentally friendly, there is a need for developed countries to promote the transfer of both technology and skills to poorer nations. The fact is that the problem of climate change is a sum of its parts. If one part of the world lacks appropriate solutions, the problem will still come back to haunt even those countries that have access to perceived technological solutions.
The report states that 0.3 percent of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts can potentially provide all of Europe’s energy needs because the sunlight in this area is more intense. Therefore, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in that area could generate up to three times the electricity compared with similar panels in northern Europe.
“Harnessing the power of the desert sun is at the centre of an ambitious scheme to build a … European supergrid that would allow countries across the continent to share electricity from abundant green sources such as wind energy in the UK and Denmark and geothermal energy from Iceland and Italy,” reports the Guardian newspaper, which notes that the project will cost 45 billion euros (35.7 billion pounds).
While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the move to provide cleaner energy, it is essential that such an ambitious initiative is sustainable and beneficial to both Europe and Africa.
To harvest solar power in Africa without ensuring that the continent also has access to such energies is not a sufficient solution to the energy problem facing the world.
“Assuming it’s cost-effective, a large scale renewable energy grid is just the kind of innovation we need if we’re going to beat climate change. Europe needs to become a zero-carbon society as soon as possible, and that will only happen with bold new ideas like this one. Tinkering with 20th-century technologies like coal and nuclear simply isn’t going to get us there,” the newspaper quoted Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, as welcoming the proposals.
Indeed Europe needs to become a zero-carbon society but so does Africa, and given Europe’s self-interested historical intervention in Africa, it has a responsibility to assist the continent.
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