Dead Sea Photovoltaic Power Generating Plant in Jericho, Palestine

Written by Tim Lash, Focus Fusion Society Contributor.

The School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP) at American University in Cairo (AUC) recently published an energy piece in their quarterly Cairo Review of Global Affairs. The article about renewable power sources was written by Jeffrey Ball, scholar in residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and a lecturer at Stanford Law School. The article posted last week here at covered renewable energy trends in western Europe. Mr. Ball’s article extends that story to the Middle East and Northeast Africa (MENA). Here too, renewable energy is beginning to make a significant contribution to the regional energy demand.

The article lays out the global trends for renewable energy production into three phases. The author labels these stages the Age of Necessity, the Age of Subsidy and the Age of Viability. The Age of Necessity covered expensive situations for renewable power generation done due to lack of traditional power distribution. Isolated farms, mountaintops, and islands demanded early electricity-producing wind turbines. Rural villages and spacecraft first adopted solar panels. The Age of Subsidy tells the story of the driving force behind the western European renewable trend told in last week’s post. Finally, the author asserts that we are entering the Age of Viability.

Evidence for the dawning Age of Viability for renewable energy can be found on many fronts. Most notable is the ever increasing price competitiveness of electricity from wind and solar. The article cites several instances of renewable energy selling for less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. Solar cell production capacity has been a point of escalating tariff targets between the U.S. and China. The builders of wind and solar farms are reaching a point where their expertise is driving economies of scale. As a result of these economic factors, renewable power plant designs continue to grow.

Which brings us to the MENA region. Awash in fossil fuel reserves, the Middle East has long enjoyed the rewards of abundant energy production. Cheap petroleum products and consistent revenues from oil production. Increasingly, countries in the region are turning to renewable production. Producing more of their own electricity from renewable sources allows them to sell more of their oil on the international market. Middle Eastern policy makers also see gaining expertise in the renewable game as a hedge for a world turning more often to renewable sources. Going forward they don’t want their economy wholly dependent on oil revenue, and renewable production is now seen as a way to diversify their ability to export power.

Left out of the discussion was the potential contribution from fusion projects. A viable fusion alternative could once again bring a disruptive force to the power production table. Perhaps some funding for fusion research could spur another Age of Renewable Energy Production.