What Mediterranean Solar Plan for the Poor? by Eerik Wissenz

First published onwww.solarfire.org and BioContact

For the MSP to be developed in the optimum way and in the interests of all it’s participants, a diffusion of Micro Solar Concentration technology seems indispensable.

The long term benefits of the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) are clear and indisputable for all the countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. As the plan exists currently, the countries concerned are Souther Europe, North Africa, and a part of Middle East, as well as the Sahara and Sahel zones, of which the bordering countries are particularly touched by accelerating deforestation and desertification.

The short term, direct benefits of the production of electricity will not be visible for citizens who are poor or unequipped in electrical appliances. If parts of the participating populations, already touched by ongoing diverse economic and ecological crisis, find themselves excluded from a project that centers around the sun (a universal and free energy source if ever one existed), those responsible for the Mediterranean Solar Plan may find lack of commitment, a crisis of identity, and a distancing between the participants that risks putting the efficiency of the plan in peril.

It is thus necessary at all cost to avoid the establishment of a logic where those of little means are left on the side. For this we recommend that the MSP make those with little access or use of electricity visible and realistic partners. This can most easily be accomplished with Micro Solar Concentrating Power, that is to say small scale solar concentration for direct uses.

MicroCSP permits:

- the decrease in deforestation
- the decontamination of water
- cooking
- the development of local and sustainable economic activities

Small solar concentrators with a power of 1 to 3 KW already exist in the Mediterranean zone, but their diffusion remains small and hampered largely because it is often organized by small associative projects with few development, communication, or follow up means.

For a massive communication with the public on solar energy to occur, we recommend that a small portion of the MSP budget is dedicated to the creation of Solar Centers devoted to MicroSCP.

These centers, ideally present over all the countries involved in the MSP, would have as first task to assemble all the existing MicroSCP technologies, which are largely available on the Internet with indisputable qualities. It is noteworthy that most MicroSCP technologies have free and simple designs, can be constructed from basic materials, can be understood quickly and intuitively, and have a wide range of uses; however, they have unfortunately never been thoroughly compared nor studied in the long term.

In a first time, such a comparative/performance study over a wide range of environments would allow the creation of a necessary database to validate existing technologies and develop new ones. Such a database would have the immediate effect of answering question such as: Which technology is adapted to which environments, natural, economic and cultural? Which technologies are best for what uses? What is the cost-benefit of a given technology for a given situation? What are the performances? What are the obstacles?

This would then permit a diffusion of the most appropriate technologies for the locally identified needs. At the same time instructors, researchers and technicians would be concretely trained in solar technology, permitting a basis for the necessary diffusion of knowledge and skills to build and maintain the MicroCSP devices on the ground.

The centers will naturally communicate their work and knowledge in solar energy throughout industry and society, which also prepares the way for larger SCP electric installations of the MSP in the urban and rural areas of each country.

Such a direct and tangible public awareness from the ground up, from the small to the large, would also help vanquish the cultural obstacles so far experienced by many small MicroCSP projects.

To succeed, here is a proposed working plan : 1. Launch as soon as possible a feasibility study and collection of figures in partnership with diverse institutional, ONG’s, associations, and actors in MicroSCP, within the concerned countries (an investigation our association proposes to coordinate).
2. Produce a document presenting a budget and the conditions necessary for the construction of such Solar Centers, which would minimally include a work shop, a terrain, basic materials (steal, aluminum, glass, mirrors), measurement instruments, computers and Internet, and technicians and researchers.
3. Submit a proposal for the launch of pilot centers where it seems most appropriate, for example in Spain, Greece, Lebanon, Morocco, each center tied to a university laboratory, along with a website and Internet database for the communication, gathering and diffusion of the collected data.
4. Integrate the results obtained by the centers in currently existing humanitarian and development programs, develop private sector partnerships, as well as micro credit programs driven by the new economic possibilities of MicroCSP.
5. Multiply the centers, and develop a second generation of MicroCSP, including small scale electricity production and other applications.

Changing energy systems is a slow social and economic process. It is essential not only to transfer the technical and theoretical knowledge to all relevant parties, such as universities, technical training centers, associations etc. but communicate effectively with the public. Solar concentration is simple and there is no reason every member of society cannot understand the principles and proper use of solar device.

To summarize, the advantages of a massive diffusion of MicroSCP would be :

- the reduction of deforestation
- the reduction of water related illnesses
- the creation of new economic activities (roasting, bread baking, pottery, ceramics, produce preservation, or anything requiring high quality heat.)
- the creation of jobs in the sustainable economy
- a popular, simple and effective communication tool to represent renewable technology
- reduction of the load and dependence on electrical grid
- contribution to a stable energy system

A large diffusion of Micro Concentrating Solar Power in all the countries of the Mediterranean Solar Plan would be at once an strong humanitarian and economic action as well as concretely prepare a real public awareness to the solar production of electricity on a large scale.

Eerik Wissenz
December 2008