Tourists walk at the beach during a low tide in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt February 2021.
Tourists walk at the beach during a low tide in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt February 2021.Credit: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/ REUTERS

Uri MarinovMar. 23, 2021

Today more than ever it is clear to almost everyone that our planet is undergoing an accelerated process of global warming, which is causing serious damage to the environment, the economy and society, and is likely in the end to lead to the extinction of our civilization. One of the main reasons for the process is the use of fossil fuel – coal, oil and gas – and greenhouse gas emissions. Although the use of gas is preferable for reducing air pollution, there is no difference between coal and gas in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

The main solution to the problem is ending the use of fossil fuel and a transition to solar energy. Twenty minutes of solar radiation can supply all of the world’s energy needs for an entire year. The question is how to make this energy accessible. There are two main drawbacks to using this source of energy: It isn’t always accessible (night, winter, certain climatic regions), and it requires a great deal of space, for the purpose of installing solar collectors.

And in fact, environmental activists oppose the installation of collectors, for fear of harming open and protected spaces. The solution to the first problem is the development of batteries for storing solar energy. In recent years there has been significant momentum in the field and new and cheap batteries have been developed. As a result, and also due to a drastic reduction in the prices of the collectors, solar energy has become the cheapest form of energy – less costly than using nuclear energy, coal, oil and gas.

Another way of storing solar energy is by creating hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most common element in nature, it’s easy to produce through a process of electrolysis, and when burned it creates only water vapor. Global industry uses large amounts of hydrogen, but usually it is produced by breaking down a natural gas, methane. This process produces greenhouse gases, which is why this hydrogen is called “gray hydrogen.” Using solar energy to produce hydrogen yields “green hydrogen,” without greenhouse gas emissions.

As mentioned, the process of producing solar energy requires the use of large areas in order to install collectors. In a small country like ours that could result in a shortage of suitable areas, but our two neighbors, Jordan and Egypt, have very large areas of desert, with climatic conditions that are very suitable for producing energy from the sun. A study published last year found that the use of 8 percent of the area of the Sahara Desert could provide all of the world’s energy needs.

That is why we propose examining the idea of cooperation with Jordan and Egypt, with solar panels being installed in desert areas in those countries. With the help of the energy produced, electricity and hydrogen could be created. The hydrogen could be transported via pipelines for the transportation and industrial needs of the three countries. All the partners in the project would derive economic, environmental and social benefits from it.

Alternatively, the electricity created in the process of energy production in Jordan and Egypt could be transferred to Israel, and the hydrogen could be produced here. Israel could increase Jordan’s interest in the project by offering to supply it with water from Lake Kinneret, or desalinated water.

On the face of it, this idea is far preferable to the idea of digging a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, in light of all the environmental problems that such a canal could create. On the other hand, solar panels have almost no negative effects on the environment and have major advantages for the participating countries.

We must hope that the new government soon to be formed will take global warming seriously and examine the options of Egyptian-Jordanian-Israeli cooperation for the production of electricity and hydrogen using solar energy.

Finally, I want to thank the Dutch embassy in Israel, which made background material on the subject of hydrogen available to me.

Prof. Marinov was the first director general of the Environment Ministry, and is head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Haifa.