Africa & Middle East - The Red Sea is a long, relatively narrow body of water, running between the Mediterranian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It passes by several countries, like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. It pumps a huge volume of water out into the Persian Gulf through a fairly narrow outlet. And scientists looking at this natural form of renewable energy would very much like to put a dam up and capture its massive potential.
Scientists believe that 50 Gigawatts of electrical power could be extracted, helping to quell tensions related to regional oil supplies. Detractors suggest that it could cause untold devastation and displace countless [millions] of people from their homes. The idea is gaining momentum though, as scientists have published information about the costs and benefits in the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues of what is quite probably the most ambitious, attainable engineering project ever conceived of by man.
According to the researcher proponents, "[such a project] will also provide enormous reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as offering a viable, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels for future generations. The ethical and environmental dilemmas are on an international scale, while the impact on ecology, tourism, fisheries, transport and other areas could have effects globally."
The narrowest part of the Red Sea's opening into the Persian Gulf, and eventually the Indian Ocean, is approximately 18 miles across. There is an island block which would make the largest span about 10 miles. If the engineering issues were resolved, and the dam could be constructed, then all of the water currently passing through the nearly 20 mile opening would be funneled through huge hydroelectric generators, producing the continuous 50 Gigawatts of electrical energy.
How much power?
To put the 50 Gigawatt number into scale, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the largest in the United States, generates 3.2 Gigawatts. The largest hydroelectric dam in the world is the Itaipu Dam in Paraguay/Brazil. It generates 12.6 Gigwatts, with a theoretical max of 14 Gigawatts. The Three Gorges Dam in China will be completed in 2009, and displaced 1.2 million people. Today it generates 13.4 Gigawatts, and will generate 22.5 Gigawatts when completed and fully operational around in 2011. The Guri Dam in Venezuela was completed in 1986. It generates 10.2 Gigawatts. In the United States, the Ground Coulee dam, completed in 1942, refit in 1980, is the largest, generating 6.8 Gigawatts. Niagara Falls generates a relatively small 2.5 Gigwatts, consuming 90% of the water which used to flow over the falls.
From the press release: "The researchers point out that the precautionary principle cannot be applied in making a decision regarding the damming of the Red Sea. "If the countries around the Red Sea decide in favor of the macro-project, it is their responsibility to limit the negative consequences as much as possible," they conclude.
I've always been a big fan of dams. When I was a boy there was a woods near the house I grew up in. Me and my mates would spend countless hours out there trying to outdo the local beavers, building small dams in the four-foot wide creek that ran through. Sticks, logs, mud. It was so much fun, though we were never to get the water level up more than about 8 inches or so. In truth, such projects taught me a lot about science, and without me even knowing it.
Hydroelectric projects like these have a long history of success, proving that the effort is worth the return. They are also of such a massive scope that how anyone can wrapt their minds around it is beyond me. We're talking more than 15 years to build the Three Gorges Dam in China, and likely more than 25 years for this one. And those are really amazing timescales if you consider the fact we're using wholly modern equipment.
Such a project would be a significant, ongoing effort for the governments in that region. The end result will be a totally clean, inexpensive, renewable energy resource. And, in my opinion, it will allow for benefits that can't even be envisioned today. Who can speak about the possible medical cure which might come from the mind of someone in that region who, thanks to such electricity, had proper schooling, proper access to online materials just by having affordable, abundant electricty. There is so much possible when we look at these kinds of energy sources.