Renewable Energy: a Better Bribe
Bribing and Pressuring Fissile Regimes
On July 25th, France offered to build a nuclear reactor for Libya to power a water desalinization plant. Russia is delaying the delivery of nuclear fuel for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr to help pressure them to comply with UN Security council demands for less secrecy. South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States promised to provide 950 thousand tons of oil or equivalent aid to North Korea in return for permanently disabling all its nuclear facilities.
I'm not going to argue about whether using energy aid is the best way to influence this country or that; the fact is that no matter what you or I think about it, the carrot will always be part of international diplomacy, as well the stick. I want to talk about what form that carrot takes.
This map shows the amount of solar energy in hours, received
each day on an optimally tilted surface during the worst month of the year.
Image Source: Sunwize.
Both Iran and Libya are well suited for concentrating solar power (CSP), and the declared purpose of the reactor for Libya is desalinization, an excellent application for CSP. Iran has a wind resource as good as the American Midwest (although CSP may be a better choice due to sandstorms.) While North Korea has only moderate insolation, US non-governmental organizations were already working to help North Koreans with wind power in 1999. North Korea has a high quality wind resource all along its Western coastline in Korea Bay, which is shallow and well suited to offshore wind, and also nearest the capital, Pyongyang.
Intermittent Electricity would be an Improvement
The strongest objection to wind power (and to a much lesser extent solar) is that these are intermittent resources. Yet all these countries already have problems with persistent power outages. Iran already has problems meeting demand during peak summer hours, and CSP is better suited for meeting peak summer loads than nuclear power, which is a baseload resource, which operates at its worst on hot summer days due to its cooling requirements.
Power utility time of use for California CSP Plants. Source: San Diego Renewable Energy Study Group, 2005 [.pdf, page 15.]
In Libya and North Korea, the electricity situation is even worse. Libya's utility vows to reduce power rationing, and provide more hours of electricity, while in North Korea the entire nation, with the exception of Pyongyang, is switched off at night. Providing North Korea with intermittent wind power rather than fuel oil for dispatchable power plants might lessen Kim Il Sung's incentive to give his capital such favorable treatment compared to the countryside, and do more to help the populace, rather than giving the regime another lever for control.
Technologies for Peaceful Applications
Iran and Libya claim that they want nuclear power only for peaceful applications. Concentrating solar power is better suited to enhance their energy security than nuclear because it does not rely on imported uranium. If that is what they want, CSP seems just as well suited for their purposes, and would give them greater energy security since it does not rely on imported fuel. With North Korea, supplying wind turbines would be even simpler politically, because the existing agreement already allows for equivalent energy aid. If we in the West are worried about the additional security renewable energy might give to these unpredictable regimes, shouldn't we be even more worried about providing them with nuclear material?
This same line of thought applies to President Bush's possibly Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty-busting deal with India. Regions of Southern and Western India also have excellent solar resources (see map). India may already have the bomb, but that is no excuse for eviscerating one of the few (and already weak) safeguards the world has against nuclear proliferation. It might be argued that India does not need our help to take advantage of their renewable energy resources, but, if so, why do they need our help with their civilian nuclear industry?