Scitech  Digging a little deeper

As climate change continues to advance, and energy prices soaring, it is now naturally accepted that he next energy revolution will most likely come from a major adoption of alternative sources of power. However, few could predict, at that moment, that such a revolution could start from the Middle East, and, more specifically, Palestine, a country still struggling to have its borders recognized. Khaled Al-Sabawi’s presentation at the Envision Arabia summit brought forward a new perspective for developing a clean energy economy.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are characterised by the scorching hot desert weather and the dry climate. As a consequence of this, large cities must rely on vast amounts of energy for heating and cooling, in order to survive. With the increase in infrastructure development in the last 20 years, the MENA region has experienced even higher demand for electricity. More and more cities are updating their power infrastructure, and new buildings are being constructed.

Without knowing how energy is used in a region, it is impossible to determine which sources are most efficient and plausible. Energy intensity measures the amount of energy consumed per GDP produced. As Al-Sabawi explained, the MENA region’s energy intensity today is 60 per cent higher than that of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, and 40 per cent above the world’s average. What this boils down to is the fact that the MENA region uses more energy with respect to its economic production. Energy intensity can be affected by numerous factors, for example, the weather. Norway, with its Scandinavian climate, boosts one of the highest ratios in the world. But, mainly, this means that the MENA region is consuming much more energy than it is producing.

The price of energy is directly correlated to energy intensity, and this is particularly true in Palestine. With its quickly rising demands, it has one of the highest electricity prices in the world. Oil is not an option for Palestine, wind power is still too unreliable, and solar power does not make sense due to the space restrictions of a small, highly dense territory.

So, where can Palestine turn to meet its growing energy demands? The answer may just be right under our noses. The earth absorbs 50 per cent of the sun’s energy, and stores it as a clean alternative source. Usually, when we talk about geothermal energy, it is meant to encapsulate the steam and hot water reservoirs, as well as the hot dry rock, which could be found below ground in some regions like Iceland. But, another way to extract heat from the Earth is through geothermal heat pumps. At a constant temperature of 17 degrees Celcius a few metres below ground, pipes containing a fluid can be buried and connected to a heat pump. When the temperature below ground is higher than the outside temperature in the winter, it is used for heating, and in the summer when lower than outside – for air conditioning.

MENA has already attempted to harness this energy with its geothermal building plants, and, in doing so, decrease electricity prices. “Heating and cooling account for 60 per cent of a typical building’s energy”, as Al-Sabawi explained, “and the best technology to reduce [their consumption] is geothermal.”
Currently, MENA Geothermal has three large heat pump systems in Palestine, each boosting energy savings to a staggering 70 per cent. As a result, they’ve been awarded the contract for a 1.6 megawatt power plant at the University of Megada in Jordan, the largest geothermal system in the entire region.
But, in order to lift their model off the ground, they worked hard to reduce the cost of geothermal energy in order to make it fiscally, as well as environmentally, sustainable. This was done through a variety of methods, such as by using local materials. Also, they plan to build plants near residential buildings in order to be able to provide heating and cooling for an entire community. Investors seeking a financial return can then invest capital in geothermal plants and sell the energy to nearby consumers at prices that could be 50 per cent lower than the current cost of electricity, since the return of geothermal energy is so high.

Right now, however, highly subsidised energy prices make it extremely hard for alternative energies to progress in the region. But, if Palestine is able to transition to the effective and efficient energy geothermal power provides, other countries may soon will follow suit. As Khaled Al-Sabawi puts it, “It is time for the Arab people to take matters into their own hands and build their own communities right.”