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Why are Libyan engineers interested in renewable energy?

On a recent press tour of the Berlin and Saxony region I came across something I wasn’t expecting. Germany has instituted a set of very progressive (or, aggressive) policies to phase out nuclear and carbon-based energy in favor of renewable sources. I saw a lot of interesting wind, solar, and other projects (more on these later), but also saw something I really wasn’t expecting — a large group of Libyan engineers learning about these renewable energy sources and how to integrate them with existing power grids.

libyan windfarmMy immediate question was “why would an oil-rich country like Libya be interested in developing renewable energy?” The answers were illuminating.

“We only have 50 years of oil left” was the first answer. With the Libyan political system currently in turmoil, it is impressive that there are stakeholders looking for sustainable means to promote stability. Much support comes from EU funding to North African nations to supply renewable energy to proximal member states such as Spain and Italy. It is worth noting that the potential for solar, and likely wind energy, in Libya far exceeds the oil resources–Germany has made great investments in solar energy, but they are limited by solar exposure similar to that of Alaska. North African countries have longer photoperiods with less seasonality, and less cloud cover. The large unpopulated areas also mean fewer siting problems (and great opportunities for economic development outside urban areas).

Another rationale presented is that oil resources are currently used to generate electricity in Libya. Finding alternative means to produce electricity can increase the amount of oil that Libya can sell, ultimately improving the country’s wealth. Furthermore, great efforts are necessary to ensure that remote habitations are supplied with electricity. Setting up independent power grids can avoid long, lossy, runs of electricity.

A final rationale is that production of energy from non-oil resources holds the potential to decrease the political power of foreign oil extraction firms.

I will follow up in a future with more on my general observations and thoughts on Germany’s energy policies.

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