Saudi Arabia: Inflatable Solar Canopy to Power the Arabian Peninsula?

MIT student Otto Ng proposes to solar-power the Arabian peninsula with more than 10,000 square kilometers of Powerscape – a tensile solar-collecting canopy comprised of inflatable mirrors. The problem with solar power, says Ng in a TED presentation, is the great amount of space required to produce the same amount of energy as a conventional power plant.

So, unless we’re making beautiful power stations a la the Land Art Generator Initiative, we’re sapping up precious land with ugly, resource-intensive solar collectors du jour. Ng proposes instead to cover the desert with an energy-generating canopy that also provides shade and a comfortable microclimate.

cleantech, solar power, desert, Arabian Peninsula, solar canopy, Powerscape, Otto Ng


Powerscape is a programmable tensile canopy made of heliostat balloons and cable net mesh. It can trace the sun’s movement through the sky and even changes color throughout the day to deflect harsh sunlight.

At night, the canopy will be so transparent that stars will be visible through it.

The integrated mirrors concentrate sunlight onto a stirling dish that converts heat to energy, though Ng doesn’t provide any estimates on how much energy a square meter of canopy will produce, nor does he predict how the efficiency of his technology compares to existing solar-collectors.

He does point out, however, that within the next forty years, crude oil production will shrink to one-third of current levels, which could potentially cripple oil-dependent economies in the Middle East, not to mention global oil supplies.

cleantech, solar power, desert, Arabian Peninsula, solar canopy, Powerscape, Otto NgDesert agriculture

Powerscapes can bridge the energy gap, although not without biological, geological and meteorological consequences.

Still, as climate change escalates in the next few decades as a result of our failure to stem fossil fuel production and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the desert will become even more fierce.

Solar-harvesting Powerscapes could mitigate resulting discomfort by providing huge swaths of shade that will in turn promote desert agriculture and livestock production. He even proposes to combine the canopies with German technology called Watergy to create closed-loop greenhouses, promoting greater food security in the desert.

Could this technology stem the rise of African land grabs?

cleantech, solar power, desert, Arabian Peninsula, solar canopy, Powerscape, Otto NgOnly in Arabia

There are numerous pitfalls associated with this novel idea.

First of all, it would cost a fortune to create this infrastructure in the desert and it would be very difficult to maintain. Although it will require fewer natural resources than conventional solar power plants, covering the Arabian Peninsula with a giant canopy would comprise a mammoth undertaking.

Still, we wouldn’t be surprised to see wealthy Gulf nations taking up the cause in order to compete with the North African countries that have joined the Desertec initiative and maintain their energy-rich lifestyle.


May 17th 2012

Qatar (Still) Has the World’s Largest Carbon Footprint

 The Green Prophet

qatar-carbon-footprint-large-wwfAccording to the World Wildlife Fund’s latest report, Qatar still has the world’s largest carbon footprint

It’s been a couple of years since Qatar was awarded the ‘largest carbon footprint in the world‘ title (relative to the size of its population), but it appears little has changed since then. Despite various green initiative such as supporting local farms and ensuring that all new mosques were eco, they are still spewing record amounts of carbon for such a tiny nation. And once again, the nations next on the list were Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. It seems that old habits die hard and no more so than in the Gulf.

The fact that these countries are amongst the richest nations in the Middle East is clearly part of the problem – well, it’s part of the explanation anyhow. According to the WWF Living Planet report, high-income countries have an ecological footprint on average five times higher than that of low-income nations.

“We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal,” said Jim Leape, WWF international director general to Al Jazeera English. “We are using 50 per cent more resources that the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast — by 2030 even two planets will not be enough,” added Leape.

Denmark and the US were the fourth and fifth rank, respectively, in terms of the size of their carbon footprint per capita. It is important to point out to that whilst the Middle East does contribute 5% of the global carbon emissions, this is relatively small compared to the US which along with Europe emits 32% of global emissions.

So whilst having three gulf nations at the top may seem to indicate a huge environmental problem in the Middle East, the reality is that a few, small but very rich nations are living and spending more lavishly than the average person the US. In fact, research by Carboun showed that Gulf residents produce two to ten times the carbon as the average global citizen. However, overall, the US and other rich developed nations in Europe are contributing the most to climate change.

This survey is conducted every two years and has shown an average 30% decline in biodiversity since the 1970s. This figure rises to 60% in the hardest-hit tropical regions – as we all know, it is the poorest and those who have contributed least to climate change that are worst affected. The WWF is urging governments to implement a change in policy that would reduce human demand for land, water and energy and measure a country’s success beyond its GDP figure.