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Renewable Energy from the Desert

The provision of clean and affordable energy is one of the most critical problems that confronts human development. The current world energy system is dominated by fossil fuels and will fall short in meeting the energy demands of a projected world population of 10 billion by the middle of the century (Smalley 2005). In prosperous nations, energy conservation through improved efficiency offers one possibility to reduce demand. In much of the developing world, however, conservation is meaningless because little energy is currently used and their total demand can only increase as they develop. Although currently not yet profitable, renewable energy resources could account for one-third to one-half of the global energy supply by 2050, based on price competition (Shell International 2001).

Their continuously high solar radiation makes deserts ideal locations for both small decentralized units and large solar cell installations, the potential reach of which is not limited to deserts (see Chapter 5). Apart from technological feasibility, the adoption of solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels depends on the global as well as national policy environments and concrete implementation strategies. Possible incentives to encourage the shift towards renewable energy sources include taxes on pollution-generating practices, such as the burning of fossil fuels, while providing loans, grants or subsidies for the use of solar and other renewable energy resources. In addition, allocating funds for relevant technological research and training and for marketing of solar technologies, and raising public awareness of renewable resources as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, could be used to help promote the use of solar energy.

© UNEP 2006