I was very happy to read in the news (The Korea Times 03/06/08) that Libya – via its research institute, the Renewable Energies and Water Desalination Research Center (REWDRC) – signed an agreement with the Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) and the Korean research firm KONES to develop a solar generating system.
I have written previously on this very important topic of solar energy in the Tripoli Post.
- Renewable Solar Energy for Europe from Libya's Desert!
- Korea, Libya to Jointly Harness Solar Power
Equally, there have been numerous exhibitions, conferences, seminars, meetings, etc in Libya over recent years where solar energy was discussed and debated.
For example, in the first week of June this year the Austrian-Libyan Environment and Renewable Energy Assembly took part in Tripoli. (Mon 2nd June). Nevertheless, despite all the debate nothing that attracted interest really seemed to happen. However, it seems that finally Libya has taken some tangible and concrete action in the form of this tie-up with the Korean parties.
The press release informed us that a total of US $10 million will be invested - US $5 million from Libya and US $5 million from the Koreans - over the next five years. But what makes this Joint Venture on the face of it even more exciting is not the amount invested – as this is not really that much in the scale of things – but that apparently the solar cell technology being developed is a 'new class of low-cost cell'.
While the traditional solar panels use black silicon materials to convert solar energy to electricity, this type of solar cell uses photosensitive dye for that purpose. The cells are promising because they are made of low-cost materials and do not need elaborate apparatus to be manufactured, the statement reads.
Using these cells, ETRI claimed that it can lower the cost of solar panel generation from the current US$ 0.7 per kilowatt hour (kWh) to US$0.07 by 2015. It also claims that if research and development go according to plan, their dye-sensitized solar generator can compete with hydro-electric power at US$ 0.085 / kWh AND with nuclear power at US$ 0.04 / kWh. If these claims and predictions were to be realized – a jump from 70 US Cents down to 7 US Cents would be a huge cost saving achievement and would be considered a major breakthrough.
The press release also mentioned that the Koreans had registered numerous local and world patents protecting their technology. This is where the big money is made. Libya must put itself in the forefront of this market and try to start and encourage incubators in the solar energy field.
I am sure that there are many young technologists out there seeking seed capital to follow-up nascent ideas. Many will prove failures, but some will go on to become world beaters - hopefully. The trick is to sort out the potential money makers from the losers.
Libya can only become a serious player in this sector by being in the center of this sector. It must be in the game to be able to benefit early and relatively cheaply, rather than having to pay big money for patents later in the game owned by big business.
Of course, there are no guarantees that anyone of the many potential technologies under development out there today will be the successful one. There is a lot of risk in trying to back a winner at the early stage. But you have to be in it to have a chance of winning it – or at least being in the top group of the solar technology nations.
That is why I feel that the kind of investment outlay in the solar energy sector must move up substantially.
Hence for any real move to the next levels in the solar power sector some real capital investments need to be made. If Libya is serious about moving from the stage of tentative research into high level solar energy production, then real, serious long term strategies and investments need to be made sooner rather than later.
But Libya maybe just beginning to wake up to these facts, and maybe - just maybe -beginning to take this subject seriously. Certainly from the sound of the press statement from Korea it is.
"Many North African nations are preparing for 30 and 40 years from now," said Lee Un-jang, a manager at KONES.
"They know this very well, so the REWDRC have established very good research and development facilities. Now they need the technology and know-how to use them.", he said to the Korea Times.
This is a great start and the REWDRC must keep abreast of all solar-related technologies, constantly assessing them and testing them ready for some major investments. Let us hope that the REWDRC is run in an efficient and professional manner, and if it is, then let us hope it gets all the political and financial backing it needs from the Basic Peoples Congresses, the General Peoples Committees and the General Peoples Congress.
After all, this represents an opportunity for Libya to develop energy resources above the Sahara that could be many times greater than those it has beneath the Sahara!
Sami Zaptia – www.knowlibya.net