Could Libya become a major producer of solar power? New research suggests the North African country could produce about five times more power from solar energy than it does from oil.
Research conducted by Nottingham Trent University's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment found the oil-rich nation, with the right investment, could harvest enough renewable energy from solar power to meet its own electricity demands and export power to its neighbors.
"Any renewable energy project would (require) significant investment, with a projected payback period," said Amin Al-Habaibeh, the researcher leading the Innovative and Sustainable Built Environment Technologies research group at the university. "But the current increase in energy prices and the drive to reduce carbon emission are making renewable energy a more commercially feasible option."
While research is still in the early stages and firm numbers are hard to come by, the experts say they're confident investing in renewable energy could reduce Libya's financial and energy dependency on oil. The country's location on the tropic of cancer helps, with long daily exposure to sunlight.
With about 88 percent of the country made up of desert land, Libya could use just 0.1 percent of its landmass to harness solar power equivalent to almost seven million barrels of oil per day, researchers said. The North African country currently produces about 1.41 million barrels of oil per day.
Making such a change wouldn't be easy, Al-Habaibeh said. "It is difficult to break the dependency on oil and natural gas, not just in terms of the country's demand for it, but also in terms of the revenues that it generates," he said.
But, the benefits would outweigh the costs, he said, as "the current increase in energy prices and the drive to reduce carbon emission are making renewable energy a more commercially feasible option."
TURNING OIL CASH TO SOLAR ENERGY
And Libya has the means to do it, said Hafez Abdo, a senior lecturer in accounting at Nottingham Business School, who supervised the study.
Libya "will need expertise but (the solar push) can be financed by the Libyan government, probably, using the oil and gas money," Abdo said in an interview.
The study found Libya potentially could generate a large amount of wind energy as well, as the desert land is exposed to "dry, hot and prolonged gusts" of wind.
"Wind energy could play an important role in the future in meeting the total electric energy demand" of the country, noted Ahmed Mohamed, a PhD student from Libya who worked on the project.
"Several locations, including a number along the coast, experience high wind speeds which last for long periods of time," Mohamed said in a press release. "If Libya could harness only a tiny fraction of the renewable energy resources it has available in the form of solar and wind power, not only could it meet its own demands for energy, but also a significant part of the world's demands by exporting electricity."
That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the researchers do believe Libya could potentially provide clean energy beyond its borders, to parts of North Africa and Europe.
While the study began prior to recent political changes in Libya, the new Libyan government has expressed continuing interest in renewable energy, the study said.
"There are significant commercial and academic interests and activities in renewable energy in Libya at the moment," Al-Habaibeh said. "There seems to be some indications of the intention to invest in the renewable energy sector by the new Libyan government."
Chelsea Diana is an AlertNet Climate intern.