Alternate Energy Deserts

As we had Silicon Valley we may have Alternate Energy Deserts. In a very interesting article Elizabeth Rosenthal brings news from Abu Dhabi, Qatr and the UAE. Home of the great oil reserves of the world, they realize better than others, that oil is not forever — nor is the world — unless enormous steps are taken. They have begun.

“They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at home.

…leaders in politics, business and research from across the globe will flock to this distant kingdom for three days starting Monday for the second World Future Energy Summit, which just one year after its inception here has become something of a Davos gathering on renewable energy.

…This new investment aims to maintain the gulf’s dominant position as a global energy supplier, gaining patents from the new technologies and promoting green manufacturing. But if the United States and the European Union have set energy independence from the gulf states as a goal of new renewable energy efforts, they may find they are arriving late at the party.

“The leadership in these breakthrough technologies is a title the U.S. can lose easily,”

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, announced last January that he would invest $15 billion in renewable energy. That is the same amount that President-elect Obama has proposed investing — in the entire United States — “to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future.”

In Saudi Arabia, the new state-owned King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or Kaust, gave a Stanford scientist $25 million last year to start a research center on how to make the cost of solar power competitive with that of coal. Kaust, now in its first grant cycle, also gave $8 million to a Berkeley researcher developing green concrete.

And it has other agreements as well, with Caltech, Cambridge, Cornell, Imperial, La Sapienza, Oxford and Utrecht, to name just a few.

…the enormous cash infusion may provide the important boost experts say is needed to get dozens of emerging technologies — like carbon capture, microsolar and low-carbon aluminum — over the development hump to make them cost-effective.

“The impact has been enormous,” said Michael McGehee, the associate professor at Stanford who received the $25 million Saudi grant. “It has greatly accelerated the development process.”

Director of the largest solar cell research group in the world, Professor McGehee had tried and failed to get money from the United States government or American industries to commercialize cheaper solar cells. Research money is tight, he noted.

With the Saudi money he has hired 16 new researchers and expects the new energy cells to dominate the market by 2015. “People are astonished to see how big this grant is and where it came from,” he said, noting that his past grants from the United States government were one-fiftieth that amount.

…the sheer size of the investment had had a “forcing effect,” pushing polluting industries to experiment with cleaner solutions.

For example, initial plans for Masdar excluded both aluminum and conventional concrete because the production of those materials generates high levels of carbon emissions, which warm the planet. Aluminum manufacturers protested and came back with a product that reduced emissions by 90 percent compared with regular aluminum; it is now included in the project. ”

Exciting Stuff And scary, too. The US descent to being a second tier nation as it loses its technological advantage will present many dangers and, as they say, opportunities, of all sorts for all players.

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