Can Solar Energy in Mideast Stop a Gas War?

The Emirates Solar Industry Association says that solar energy is competitive with natural gas already, without the need for more subsidies.

Solar panels are rapidly falling in price, making solar ever more inexpensive. It can already compete with Liquefied Natural Gas, ESIA says.

This is good news because there are looming military conflicts over natural gas fields deep under the Mediterranean, which span more than one national border.

There is a war of words between Cyprus and Turkey on undersea gas near Cyprus.

Likewise, Israel and Lebanon share a big offshore field, and they are squabbling over where to draw the line.

These gas field disputes could be avoided if the countries involved turned to solar energy, which the UAE group thinks is perfectly plausible and economical even now, and getting more so all the time..

20 Responses

  1. Of course, solar energy and wind turbines won’t stop the Middle East tensions. Battery fields would be attacked by aviation and guerrillas, and it would be much worse than with oil equipment.

    When oil fields are attacked, oil deposits remain pretty much untouched, while solar batteries and wind turbines are just annihilated.

  2. Hi Juan,

    I have been a strong supporter of renewable energy for years. Indeed I have solar panels on my own roof which produce the equivalent of all the electricity we use. But there is a fundamental unsolved technical problem to increasing dependence on solar and wind beyond about 30%. And that is this concept called baseline. Solar and Wind energy have to be used when generated. There are no cost effective ways to store this energy at a large scale. Batteries are expensive and come with their own set of political (rare earth minerals) and environmental problems. In some places energy can be stored as heat. But the underground geology has to be able to support it. Pumping water uphill is another technique but expensive and requires mountains. Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine over large areas. Baseline power is needed to backup the renewable system in these cases.

    The 30% can be increased with a continent wide smart grid. This means new power lines potentially through urban areas or worse yet through wilderness. Plus there is considerable expense and much research still needed. Hydrogen based storage research is barely off the ground; let alone deployment.

    And thus the continued drive for natural gas and nuclear. Geothermal and hydro (except in major droughts) are great baseline sources. But these don’t exist in many places either. As much as I hate fossil fueled and nuclear plants, I have to agree that they are very reliable and proven sources of electricity which won’t shut down because the sun isn’t shining.

    Your thoughts?

    • Portugal already gets 45% of its electricity from renewables, using computers to
      mix wind, solar & hydroelectric and using extra wind to drive water uphill, and letting it run back down eg at night.

      You 20% limit is so 1999

      • I hadn’t heard about Portugal. I had heard that Spain was pretty far along toward using renewables. (USA in rear-guard, refusing to modernize anything except weapons-systems).

        These numbers seem to be about electricity. Does that include building-heating (if needed in those countries), building-cooling? It surely does not (yet) cover road-traffic, air-traffic, water-traffic, though it migh cover train-traffic.

        Is there a web-site showing all this stuff, and showing annual changes (aka progress, regress)?

    • what you need is DC power lines to transmit energy over long distances at low cost; somewhere i read a patch of Libya (solar) could easily supply Europe’s needs . . . but who wants to invest in DC power lines ? much easier to start a war

  3. Sir, it seems to me that there is just too much “interest” in combustion-based consumption to allow much hope that there can be a significant change in the energy generation part of our infestation of the planet. It would be nice to be wrong about that…

  4. Juan,
    I think we shouldn´t start opening the champagne just yet. Solar is still far from being a competitive source of energy, except in marginal situations.

    In my experience, solar entusiasts underestimate the cost by quite a lot by making favorable assumptions. For example, they estimate the current cost per kwh in in the range of 10-15cts, which they see as falling very rapidly. However, the true cost is around 30-50 cents and it is not certaing that costs of production are falling that fast.

    It is possible that prices of solar panes are going down in part because of a temporary trend, not because cost of production are coming down that rapidly. Many commodities like corn, steel, beef, etc, have had two or three year periods of falling prices, after which prices start rising again. Some solar enthusiasts just assume that the current trend can be extrapolated to the next 10 years when the panels will cost close to zero.

    Current cost estimates are generally optimistic. For example, they generally ignore the cost of intermitency or back up that an electric company has to make to compensate for the non availability of solar.

    I think we can start celebrating only when we see thousands of squared miles carpeted by solar panels by unsunsidized firms in Las Vegas, Cairo, kuwait or Ryhad.

    • I don’t understand this way of thinking. Solar is being installed competitively all around the world right now. Did you even read the article?

      • Yes, I read the article.

        No, right now solar is not being installed competitively anywhere in the world.

        Look at the feed-in tariffs for solar electricity in wikipedia. Germany and Spain, countries often taken as a model. They pay feed-in tarifs above 30 eurocents per Kwh. At the same time the tarif is between 5-10 cents for wind, hydro and nonrenewables.

        The 30+ eurocents that the electric companies pay in Spain and Germany is further subsidized: Intermitency costs are not paid by the producers; producers get 20+ year contract with fixed price; and their facilities are last to be disconected from the grid in case of lack of demand or excess generation.

        In the case of Portugal, it is true that they have close to 50% of renewables and can handle intermitency thanks to hydroelectric plants. However, the argument is about economic feasibility, not about tecnical feasibility. Intermitency can always be handled if we are willing to pay the cost.

        By the way, in Portugal solar (PV o Termal) are only 0.05% of their generation (half a percentage point). Their renewables are mostly wind, hydro and biomass. See:

        link to pelanatureza.pt

        • Your argument depends on excluding externalities. All fee in tariffs do is take away artificial tax and conceptual advantages from hydrocarbons. Given the actual damage the are doing, solar is way competitive. Arguments from how much is installed now are fallacious. The question is how much can and will be installed in 10 years.

  5. Some of the monarchies are so hungry for electricity that they burn their own oil to produce it, despite its high export value. Others are opening up natural gas and probably don’t need anything else for electricity. Solar power would make sense for the former but not the latter. However, the poorer countries of North Africa all have solar potential, and if they could export the energy to Europe in some form, that would replace coal, which is the biggest boon of all.

    This brings up a subject well-known to peak oil theorists, the Export Land Model. The countries that produce the most oil tend to build their economies around the consumption of it, not its conservation. They act like they will always have enough to export. But they often also have high birth and immigration rates, so their populations are exploding. Thus even if they find more oil in the future, it will be added to their domestic consumption, not their exports.

  6. In the last decade, technological leaps in solar and wind energy, semiconductor fabrication and display technologies have created thousands of jobs. But while many of those industries started in America, much of the employment has occurred abroad. Companies have closed major facilities in the United States to reopen in China. link to nytimes.com

  7. “…Israel and Lebanon share a big offshore field, and they are squabbling over where to draw the line.”

    Not to mention that most of it lies off the Gaza shore. When do Gazans get to cash in on this bonanza?

  8. Several people have touched on the core of the problem here — not the production of energy, but the STORAGE. There has been no improvement in battery technology since the invention of flashlights.

    Solar electric is not very efficient, but then, nuclear is even less so. Use a fission reaction to boil water just to turn a turbine? Are you NUTS?

    The third greatest consumption of energy is heating, and that can be done with solar power by simply putting something black over it. For pity’s sake, I can do everything from cook food to heat the wash water with a black surface (well, it’s Florida).

    We are going back to a physical-labor economy, whether wallstreet likes it or not. There will be no more oil drilling, period, never mind even THINKING about that deep-water insanity. Politicians and profiteers all need to be taken down to basically just advanced scuba-dive depth and have the concept of “pressure” explained to them.

    It takes electrical power to make steel. It only takes legs to move a cycle.

    • I think the drivers of Nissan Leafs and the tens of millions of owners of laptop computers are going to disagree that there has been no improvement in batteries since the invention of the flashlight. Have you not heard of lithium ion?

  9. Visiting Syria and Egypt in recent years, I have been amazed that I have seen almost no solar water heating in homes or hotels. My hotels in Egypt had heated outdoor pools (heating very necessary at this time of year) with no use of the sun although in Luxor it is sunny nearly all the time. What a dreadful waste!
    Solar water heating is hardly high tech, and solar heating on your own house or hotel is probably one of the most secure sources of energy in an insecure environment. What is the matter with them?

    • Maybe a slightly different question can be asked, purely rhetorically of course: “What is the matter with US?” as in “us humans, the apparently too-smart-to-survive species?”

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