The discussion about stopping the climate crisis is going in two directions: a technical solution based on an expansive capitalist model financed by international corporations or a societal and economic readjustment aimed at greater equality and justice while reducing the exploitation of the earth’s resources.
Hauke Benner is a former journalist and currently a political activist against climate change.
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
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A few days ago, politicians from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula met in Dubai with managers from industrial groups that want to provide part of Europe’s electricity demand from North African and Arabian large-scale renewable energy plants. We have been here before. This initiative used to be the Desertec Industrial Initiative, founded 12 years ago, and is now called Dii-Desert Energy.
On the occasion of this meeting, a group of renowned energy and climate scientists from three continents presented their proposal for a “Global Energy Transition to 100% Renewable Energy” to the world public.
The group of scientists presented a 10-point plan in Dubai. In essence, they call for the immediate 100% electrification of global (!) electricity production through renewable energies (RE).
In their press release they wrote: “A world based on 100% Renewable Energy is possible, and we are able to transform the energy system fast enough to avoid the climate catastrophe! .The Earth’s climate emergency requires the completion of a zero-emissions economy much sooner than the generally discussed target year of 2050. A target year needed for ending our CO2 and other
climate-warming and air pollutant emissions is proposed to be 2030 for the electric power sector and soon thereafter, but ideally no later than2035, for other sectors. The central question of these studies was whether and how it is possible to achieve the goal of 100% supply of the world’s energy demand with renewable energies already by 2030 for theelectricity demand, and 2035 for the total energy demand.”
Scientists are optimistic about achieving the target while still generating millions of new jobs. Professor Tony Seba from the US think tank RethinkX: “The conclusion is clear: a global energy system powered by 100% clean renewable energy is not just possible over the next 10-15 years, it can also save money, create jobs and wealth, save lives, and get humanity ahead of the curve to prevent runaway climate change,” said Seba. “It is economically, socially, geopolitically and environmentally
irrational for us to kick the can down the road to 2050.”
In their 10-point plan, they present their theses based on decades of research.
Excerpts from the plan:
4. The total social cost (energy, environmental, climate, and health cost) of a 100% RE system will be drastically lower than of business as usual. The sooner we achieve a 100% RE system, the faster these savings will be realised!
5. A 100% RE system can supply regions, countries, and the world reliably (24-7) with energy at low cost.
7. Solar and wind will be the key pillars of energy supply, plus flexibilityin many forms, especially storage, sector coupling, demand response management, large- and small-scale grid integration.
8. The studies agree that electricity will take a massively increasing share (about 80-95%) of the global energy supply. Electrification will result in a superabundance of cheap clean, renewable energy, increasing prosperity for all humanity.
As fascinating as their theses seem at first glance, the details hidden in the theses are problematic, especially in Thesis 7. If we assume that it is indeed possible to produce electricity essentially from photovoltaic and wind worldwide, the question immediately arises about the worldwide lack of storage technology for the times when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. 100 % renewable energy means complete decarbonisation. And that means neither coal nor gas, nor the new nuclear technology favoured by Bill Gates, among others are acceptable.
What remains? Hydrogen!
Since last year, a real hype has broken out in Germany, with the German government subsidising the development of hydrogen technology with more than 9 billion €. This is because it is the storage and process technology favoured by all the major corporations in the chemical and steel sectors, but also by many electricity companies such as the German RWE Group. The hydrogen produced from wind and sun by means of electricity input during electrolysis of the water is excellently applicable in gaseous form both in the production of steel, cement and for the chemical industries. It can also be used in gas-fired power plants when the sun and wind fail to produce sufficient electricity. In Central Europe, this is a major problem in electricity production, especially during the day in the winter months. Up to now, coal and gas have been used more (apart from nuclear energy, e.g. in France) in these periods of low renewable energy production.
So hydrogen. And that is why the scientists from the USA, Europe, and Australia chose the Dubai conference to present their plan. Because there the next steps were agreed for the construction of huge photovoltaic plants in the sunny desert regions of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plans are to produce hydrogen directly on site, both for own use and for export.
However, some problems are still completely unsolved: for the export of the hydrogen, special ships with pressure vessels and cooling have to be built or the electricity has to be transported to Europe in thousand-kilometre-long direct power lines. The biggest problem, however, is the low efficiency of electrolysis. Optimistic calculations assume ‘only’ 60% energy loss in the conversion of electricity into hydrogen. When transported by ship, losses of up to 25% are added. So even before hydrogen is actually used as an energy carrier, a considerable part of the green primary energy is lost.
In a study from 2020, the German Fraunhofer Institute calculated the completely crazy figure of 300 TWh from renewable energies would be necessary for hydrogen production in Germany in 2035 alone. If we take into account that, according to the EU’s targets, renewables should already account for 65% of electricity production in 2030, this amounts to a doubling to tripling of the current production capacity of renewables. There is neither the physical space nor the acceptance for this in Germany. That is why the scientists of the Fraunhofer Institute, like other German energy research institutes, are talking about the need to import hydrogen from sun-rich nations. And that brings us back to the Dii project. Here we have to ask in particular to what extent the people living there will be asked by the mostly dictatorial regimes whether they want this large-scale technology at all and whether they will give up large land areas for it. The old criticism of the first Desertec plan are still relevant: a new form of colonialist conquest is being carried out and Europeans are becoming dependent on imports from states that have not exactly distinguished themselves as guardians of human rights in the past.