One way to do a “energy from the desert” project is to just build power plants and transport the energy over power lines to the users.
Another way to do it is to build power plants in the desert and then use the energy right there to produce something useful, and then move the products containing the energy to market. I have looked at this kind of idea in my book “Energy from the Mongolia Gobi desert” (Chapter two), where I looked at quicklime, aluminum, hydrogen, and silicon.
This makes a lot of sense to me. The AlJazeira video above gives a tour of the first pilot greenhouse they are operating. Basically the idea is to use sea water and sun in a coastal desert area to grow food in greenhouses.
It works. They are selling 5000 kilo tomatoes a week on average, which should work out to about 25,000 dollars on the Australian market. And they plan to significantly expanse their production.
The nice thing about this setup is that it is rather small scale. They use concentrated solar power, but their installation is much smaller than the usual megasolar projects people build with CSP. That’s nice, since it is obviously much easier to pull off a small tomato greenhouse project than a 500 MW power plant with a billion dollar price tag.
It’s also nice because it involves desalination. One of the effects of climate change will be water scarcity. Therefore, getting more desalination capacity and using less fresh water for agriculture are urgent tasks.
The only drawback of this technology is that there is no way it could work in Mongolia. But getting some projects running in Australia might be a great way to start developing the excellent desert resources of that country.