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How Alternative Energy Can Save the Planet

The Noor 1 solar thermal complex at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Source: Boris Schinke
The Noor 1 solar thermal complex at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Source: Boris Schinke

Let’s face it: humankind's impact on the environment and climate change is inevitable. Traditional energy sources and technologies are not able to maintain the planet’s health and resist upcoming environmental and nature disasters caused by the human factor. At a time when the Earth’s resources are on the brink of being depleted, it’s time to take a deep breath and think what can meet an increasing consumption demand of the world’s growing population and save the planet’s future. Thankfully, the current debate on the climate change and energy has finally reached a crescendo, as the discussion has been elevated from theories and discussions to real and tangible, even ambitious projects being implemented worldwide.

About a month ago I had a unique opportunity to discuss this highly debated topic with Stephen A. Roosa, an internationally recognized expert in energy management and urban sustainability, currently based in Louisville, Kentucky. While on his visit to Russia Dr. Roosa presented his projects at one of the biggest forums on urbanism and construction as well as conducted a number of lectures at Russian universities. He also shared his view on alternative energy perspectives and future urbanism with me in an exclusive interview:

"The key question asked by engineers, energy specialists and developers around the world today is; How we can efficiently decrease greenhouse gas emissions that will hopefully help stabilize the world’s climate? CO2 emissions continue to grow and this growth is not restrained at all. One of the biggest challenges of sustainable development today is to create a stabilization triangle designed to decrease gas emissions to the basic minimum. Obviously, the main tools that can help us reach this goal are energy efficiency, energy saving and usage of alternative energy sources along with the latest information technologies”, said Dr. Roosa.

That’s quite a challenge, I thought while listening to Stephen. But how can wind & solar energy be efficiently used in Russia and in most of the US states lacking the sun throughout the year? Perhaps, like many other people living in a snow-bound and mist-bound environment I was too naïve to ask this question.

“The alternative energy sources usage based on the wind or solar power or geothermal energy along with the latest information technologies is not a utopia. The great example could be water-treating facilities in New Jersey generating as much the energy with the solar and wind power. As a result, the excess of the energy they produce is sold to the grid company. Another example is the school energy efficiency project in Kentucky where we implemented an integrated system for remote management of 1800 buildings across the entire state. Now we can control the energy efficiency and energy consumption of these buildings from anywhere in the world. And believe me, all of these projects can prove their efficiency with only 50+ sunny days a year!”

Remote panel for energy efficiency control, Twenhofel Middle School, Covington, Kentucky. Photo credit: Dr. Stephen A. Roosa}

Moroccan Miracle

 As I later that month visited Morocco on my planned business trip the first thing that struck on me was the solar power batteries set across the highway from the airport of Casablanca to the city’s downtown.  This could easily be found in California, somewhere on the way to the Silicon Valley , but seemed quite surreal in a small North-African country ruled by the King.

Yet, Morocco (lacking a conventional energy of its own) is blessed with an abundance of solar resources and is strategically located at the heart of the energy hub with a direct connection to the Spanish grid. Over the last few years, the country has developed an ambitious national energy strategy designed to secure supplies while following a sustainable development approach. Let’s take a closer look at a rapidly growing sector of Morocco.

The Moroccan government integrated over 3$ billion for the Wind Energy Project which will boost the installed electrical power derived from wind to 2, 000 MW 2020on ten sites chosen for their rich potential. The ultimate goal is to increase the share of wind power to 14% of the total electrical capacity for Morocco by 2020 and to avoid the consumption of 5.6 million tonnes of CO2 a year. The solar and wind power sectors are both backed up by a training program created to meet their current and future needs. It includes specialized courses in the country’s leading engineering schools and universities together with training for technicians in vocational institutes. In addition, there are partnerships between the industrial sector, Morocco’s Grandes ecoles, universities and institutes specializing in R&D.

or 1 Solar Power Plant, Morocco

To my great surprise, I later found out that solar power is also used to save Moroccan hammams! As there are apparently ten thousand hammams across the Kingdom, some of which consume up to 450 kg of wood per day to heat the water wasting a depleting resource that’s ever more expensive. Entrance fees to Morocco’s hammams vary between 15 to 20 dirhams per person. That’s why some hammam owners have to shut up their business since wood consumption equals to 95%  of their costs. But what if the sun can save the day? Some hammams are beginning to affix solar panels as a part of the sustainable hammam project.

Moroccan hammams operating via solar power

Unfortunately, not all the countries’ government policies are welcoming alternative energy sources today. As Dr. Roosa wisely noted “The US and Russia are still charging the elephants today” meaning that traditional energy costs exceed the profit. Being skeptical about alternative energy and resist the future of energy efficiency projects is the easiest way to reach isolation and regression. Starting negotiations with government authorities, presenting real projects fearlessly is what can save the world today.