Category Archives: Climate Change

Mauritania & the Megaton Moon

GreenGo’s Megaton Moon proposed project: a vast wind and solar farm in Mauritainia, using the Mauritanian flag as inspiration for the layout.

At COP28 in Dubai 118 countries have signed up to a voluntary pledge to triple renewable energy generation and double energy efficiency by 2030. These pledges are a very variable thing: some countries will take them seriously and implement policies aimed at achieving these goals. For other countries it is, no doubt, just a meaningless public relations exercise. However there are other countries which will massively surpass the goal of tripling renewable energy production. It is this last group that interest me most. Let us look at just one.

In Mauritania only about half the population have access to electricity, and the country only used 1.88TWh in 2021. Mauritania has huge expanses of flat, windswept, sunny deserts, ideal for building large scale wind and solar projects. GreenGo Energy is a Danish based clean energy company that was founded in 2011, and has partnered with several cleantech funding organizations, such as Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, who have an impressive track record.

GreenGo and the Mauritanian government are proposing to build a massive wind and solar project in Mauritania with a capacity to generate 190TWh per year, which would be a hundred-fold increase in Mauritania’s electricity supply. Some of the energy would be used to desalinate seawater and increase agricultural production, some would be used to help supply more of the Mauritanian people with electricity and to help the country build hospitals, schools and housing, but all of this would use only a small part of the wind and solar generated electricity. Much would be used to make green hydrogen, which could then be used locally or exported, either as hydrogen or as ammonia or e-methanol. Making this green hydrogen at such scale in such a favourable location for sun and wind deployment should mean very cheap energy, perhaps half the cost it could be produced for in Europe. People and industry have always moved to where energy is most abundant and cheap. It is where new economic opportunities emerge. I wrote about this in my book ‘System Change Now!’ where I speculated about such massive projects and mentioned Mauritania as one of a number of countries well suited to host such megaprojects.

BP, the oil giant, announced a year ago that they had signed-up a memorandum of understanding with the government of Mauritania to explore the feasibility of producing green hydrogen in Mauritania. I have not heard if they have made any progress.

It seems likely that someone will get a big project of this nature built in Mauritania. There are always many stages involved in these kinds of projects and raising the vast sums of money involved is not easy. To my mind the GreenGo project looks more likely to happen than the BP one, but only time will tell. Chris Goodall, in his excellent Carbon Commentary Newsletter, points out that transporting hydrogen by pipeline is very much cheaper than sending electricity via cable, or presumably transporting hydrogen in specialized ships, and he speculates about the possibility of a hydrogen pipe connecting Mauritania to Europe. Demand for green hydrogen is very strong in Europe and a cheap and abundant supply will be necessary to help decarbonize Europe, and the World, and in the process bring a better and more prosperous future for Mauritania and for Africa generally.

The Mauritanian economy is currently dominated by mining, and they have ambitious plans to double iron ore production by 2026. With the cheap wind and solar generated electricity and green hydrogen that the GreenGo project promises, Mauritania would then be able to convert their ore directly into steel at the mine site, which would reduce the need to transport bulky iron ore for export. They could of course also electrify the railway linking the mine to the port. I speculated about all this in my book, long before I heard of the plans of BP or GreenGo Energy. Mauritania has the ideal resource base from which to build an inclusive and sustainable form of prosperity, for Mauritania, and also to help the rest of the world. To do all of this requires a lot of good decision making by politicians, companies and investors. It is a country I shall continue to watch.

The BBC and the Climate Crisis

Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s Chief Scientist, tweeted this graph from the IEA, and stated ‘Anyone would think, given their prominence, that oil companies were at the centre of the energy transition. But the numbers show they aren’t- they are peripheral, and should be treated as such until they change’

I would love to see the BBC tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis properly. So far, in all my decades of watching TV I’ve never once seen the kind of programme that I think the county, and the world, is crying out to see.

A couple of weeks ago Panorama tried to address the issues with a programme called ‘Why Are We Still Searching for Fossil Fuels?’ In it Richard Bilton looks at the expansion plans of fossil fuel companies and shows how far they exceed any safe carbon budget. We are on course for catastrophic climate change. 20 minutes and 55 seconds into the programme Richard Bilton states ‘The oil and gas companies are so enormous, they operate at such vast volumes, it is really hard to get a solution to climate change without their involvement.’ This fundamentally misunderstands the processes of change, and makes telling the more positive stories in relation to the climate and biodiversity crisis impossible to tell. Nearly all the exciting innovation is coming from new start-ups and not from the old energy incumbents. (The above pie chart shows how little of the cleantech investments are coming from fossil companies: just 1%. They are irrelevent)

In 2017 I posted a blog under the title ‘Can Companies Change?’ In it I contrasted the Danish company DONG, formally the Danish Oil and Gas Company, who gradually developed into the world’s largest offshore wind developer, sold off all their fossil fuel interests and changed their name to Orsted. They are one of the very few fossil fuel companies to make this kind of transition. Peabody, formally the world’s largest coal producer, failed to change, and filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Most of the big oil and gas companies have dabbled in renewables, but for most of them it is a tiny share of their total capital investments. Probably they have now left it too late to change. It seems ever more likely that many of the big oil and gas companies will fail to change and go bankrupt as demand for their products withers in the face of cleantech expansion.

The fast growing renewables and cleantech sector is utterly dominated by new start-ups. That is where technical innovation is happening. Social innovation is happening in many ways, often led by cities. Ecological restoration is being led by many farmers and pioneering organizations.

A number of programmes could focus on solar power. The improved performance and falling price of solar panels is rapidly expanding their deployment in most, but not all, countries. It would be good to hear more about community ownership projects like The Big Solar Co-op, the way China is massively investing in solar power, and how solar is transforming villages across Africa. Offshore wind is really taking off in many places, and it would be good to hear more about this. Surplus wind and solar power will need to be stored for times of little sun or wind, and energy storage, like solar panels, are undergoing rapid change. Recent advances in, for example, sodium-ion batteries for grid electricity storage or e-methanol for fuelling shipping are signs of profound change. In the EU primary energy demand peaked in 2006 and has been slowly declining since.* As renewables exponentially expand, the demand for fossil fuels will inevitably dwindle. Other regions, such as Latin America, are following this path, and eventually all countries will.

Many cities are decreasing car dependency through investing in walking, cycling, public transport, and also as more people work from home, cities will see their need for cars and oil decrease rapidly, and air quality and human health improve. On numerous rewilding and ecological farming projects biodiversity is beginning to recover, and to flourish. This can be done while also producing energy, more and better food and employment. I would love to see programmes about these things made and presented by the people pioneering them, not by BBC journalists, none of whom seem to have much understanding about any of these changes.

Over the thirteen years that I’ve been writing these blogs, and over the coming years, I’ll try and continue to write about some of these profound and positive changes that give hope in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Many of the technologies and land use systems that so inspire me would make excellent television: they are very visual things, but I’ve never seen any of them given the coverage they deserve on television.

Wolfgang Blau, co-founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, tweeted on 22nd November that ‘We are worrying too much about the climate science deniers and not enough about the much, much larger part of the population that is very worried about global warming but doesn’t hear enough about the many emerging solutions’.

I couldn’t agree more!

  • (* Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, with data from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023)

Exploring System Change

Me with my placard, ‘Change Politics not the Climate’

Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.

The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?

My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.

Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:

What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?

Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)

From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)

 These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.

For background see my book ‘System Change Now!’ or explore this blog. If you’ve questions e-mail