Bhasan Char

Imagine a brand new island. Being surrounded by water serves to keep strangers away and you could build what you want and do what you want. It could be a brave new world. Bhasan Char is just such an island. It didn’t exist in the previous century. But now it lies off the mouth of the Meghna River; a river that washes sediment from the Himalayas all the way to the Bay of Bengal. In doing so, this river created this island.

Let’s stay imagining. As this island is new then we’d imagine little life, perhaps some vegetation though no soil yet. Maybe some birds. But not much else. Also, being little more than a sandbar then it’s close to sea level. So close in fact that storm surges would flood most if not all the island. This is perhaps less idyllic than most people would imagine.

Now add people to our island, to Bhasan Char. To make analysis easy, let’s use a round number of 100,000 people. This equates to 400sq.m. per person; note, Canada has 266,000sq.m. per person. The 400sq.m. must include everything; a home, agricultural land, (solar) energy production and any industry. Seems like a lot to include for a sandbar doesn’t it?

There are plans for a large number of people to live on Bhasan Char. As it is over 20kilometres from the mainland then supplies, such as energy, will need to be ferried frequently and regularly. The supplies must continue even during extreme climate events. Is this the life you imagine when you think of living on an idyllic island? Can Earth keep supporting people to do what they want and when they want?

Solar on More Than Tops of Buildings

Singapore may soon get 20% of its energy from solar parks in Australia. The plan is to cover 10,000 square kilometres of outback with solar collectors and send the resulting 10GW of energy through a 4370 kilometre long undersea cable. With this, Singapore, covering a land area of only 725 square kilometres, would make a strong step toward becoming carbon neutral by using large areas of a far away land.

Expand this idea further and there’s great potential. Globally about 15% of Earth’s land surface is barren, i.e. not able to support life. If we cover this land with solar collectors then it would generate 138% of the total primary energy that humans used in 2018. While most of the barren lands occur slightly north of the equator, e.g. the Sahara desert, most people live in temperate climates further away from the equator. So conducting electricity for thousands of kilometres is essential. But this and others seem to be simple engineering challenges that are keeping us from this potential.

Now imagine a future where every major population centre is tied to solar parks in barren lands throughout the world. If this were achieved then we’d have a very good chance of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Are you ready to place your reliance upon solar parks in far away lands rather than on far away oil fields?

Ouarzazate – James Allen, NASA

Solar Power Generation

Solar power generation is on a growth spurt. In 2018, it produced over 584 TWh of energy. Its capacity is nearly doubling every two years. Some see solar power as being the solution for global energy needs.

However solar power comes with costs. For one, there’s the need to fabricate panels, construct the collector facilities and then maintain operations. For another, all life forms below the solar panels will die-off as the Sun is their only source of energy and the panels capture all the sunlight. Thus, solar power usage needs to be rationalized with costs of other energy supplies.

Can we scale our energy challenge? Certainly; let’s see. In 2018, we consumed over 160,000 TWh of primary energy and it is increasing by about 1.5% annually. If solar power supplies all this then we’d need cover about 14 million square kilometres of land with solar arrays and then maintain operations.

This operational area is huge, greater than all of Europe. Further, implementing this solution would drastically, negatively affect the Earth’s biodiversity. Thus solar power generation has its place in the global energy supply mix but we need other, less costly, means to satisfy our energy challenge.