The future of clean energy lies in deserts around the world, where sunlight is abundant and opportunity costs are relatively low, said a key presenter at an international forum in Taipei yesterday on ending global warming.
Gerhard Knies, coordinator of the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, a network of some 50 experts in renewable energy and sustainability, told the forum that such technologies may create not only revenue, but employment opportunities as well.
During the two-day forum, titled "Asia's Future in a Hotter World," locals and congeressional representatives from Japan, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Germany, and the Philippines gave presentations and exchanged views on environmental and technology issues.
"The amount of energy available for harvest in deserts around the world is 700 times the needed amount to support a 10 billion global population, which is the projected population in 2050," Knies said.
Clean energy development is a pressing issue globally since coal-burning energy imposes environmental damage that is suffered by the entire human race. Fossil fuel is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, particularly in Asian where such resources are short to begin with, he said.
"The world faces a `10 over 3' crisis, meaning, in 2050 the world population is predicted to balloon to 10 billion from the current 6 billion. However, fossil fuel burning will at the same time compromise the world's capacity to support only 3 billion people," he said.
A switch to clean energy solves the problem in two ways, he said.
"First it halts the process of world capacity decrease, secondly, it is sustainable and abundant," he told the forum.
Among the array of available technologies, Knies recommended solar energy since it is "the only clean energy that fits the bill as being sufficient for the world population, cheap to mass produce, has rare intermittences and can be readily deployed on a mass scale to meet emerging demands."
To drive the expensive solar power plant costs down, Knies said building them in deserts was best.
"The idea is simple -- if you put a solar panel in your room, you would not get a lot of sunlight; if you wire it to a HVDC [high voltage direct current] power line and put your panel on your roof, you would need to pay extra for the wire, but your increased output would out-value your investment," he said. "The seemingly low cost of dirty energy is bound to detriment the world later; and the cost of [renewable energy] is lower than risking having no energy at all."
"The cost can be further driven down by on-site heat storage in the power plants," he said.
And the switch to solar energy presents a massive business opportunity. Based on an estimated global population of 10 billion for 2050, there needs to be solar panels capable of generating 400 million watts of energy each day to meet the demand of supplying 50 percent of the world power needs with solar energy, Knies said.
"The rapid increase rate cannot be matched by dirty energy sources like, say, nuclear plants -- it would be near impossible to build them fast enough to increase the world's energy capacity by 400 million watts of energy per day," he said, adding that dirty energy sources should be gradually phased out.