Desertec Asia - A Pan-Asian Energy Infrastructure Proposal

Cross-posted from Peak Energy.

Stewart Taggart of Desertec Australia and the solar thermal desalination company Acquasol, has recently started a new branch of Desertec for Asia.

The Desertec Asia plan (linking Australian solar thermal power, geothermal power and wind / wave energy, along with natural gas and coal seam gas into an expanded east Asian energy grid featured local solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-power resources as well) is summarised below - more detail can be found at "A Pan-Asian Energy Infrastructure".
Imagine an interconnected, pan-Asian electricity and natural gas Infrastructure.

The system would distribute electricity from solar, geothermal, wind and wave energy from Australia to China. Natural gas and hydro would fill the gaps. The vision is big. So is climate change.

In Europe, the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative proposes that a series of concentrating solar power plants in North Africa could power the region and export surplus electricity to Europe.

A similar network built in Asia would generate energy market efficiencies, spur innovation and increase energy security.

Following this path, Asia could end up with networked electricity and natural gas backbone that would serve the region into the 22nd Century.

The plan involves connecting Asia through a 6,000-8,000 kilometer electricity and natural gas transmission system stretching from southern Australia to Japan and South Korea.

Australian surplus concentrating solar power, geothermal, wind and wave energy, along with natural gas, would flow northward to Indonesia. There, it would be joined by Indonesia's surplus natural gas, geothermal and hydro power.

The combined energy supplies, joined by Malaysian hydro, southeast Asian biomass and Mekong wind, would then be transmitted to China, Japan and South Korea through a 'non-discriminatory, common-carrier' infrastructure operated like a toll road.

Further north, China's Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang provinces could contribute solar and wind energy. In the East Asian Sea, networked offshore wind farms and wave and tide machines would contribute more energy. Regional natural gas and hydro energy supplies would 'load balance' the entire system in a hemispheric network managed as an highly-efficient whole.

Competitively accessible, non-discriminatory, low-emission energy generated and delivered through a regionally-interconnected, Pan-Asian energy infrastructure represents a market-based solution to climate change.

Stewart made the closing address at the Clean Energy Expo Asia Conference 2009, describing the Desertec Asia plan. Part 1 is embedded below - click on the links for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

More technocopian nonsense - Australia has more than enough problems of its own transitioning to a sustainable energy system without getting into schemes involving Asia.

The Europe/North Africa scheme will very likely not get off the drawing board.I can't see the Europeans being stupid enough to spend billions on infrastructure in foreign countries which are known for their instability and hostility to the West only to be the victims of sabotage or being held to ransom.

This would be one of the reasons that the Desertec scammers are now in Australia pushing their spurious wares.

Let's have some sense of reality in discussions about energy.

You believe building electricity grids and natural gas pipelines is impossible ?

And you believe that trade between countries is a bad idea ?

I've always found that both these things are quite real...

You are setting up a straw man.

What is proposed by Desertec in Australia is so far off the planet that it would not be built even in a best case BAU scenario.The fact that BAU will not continue for much longer should be obvious to any thinking person not blinded by self interest or by impractical dreams.

I am not against building the means of moving energy within Australia if this results in eliminating electrical generation by burning coal.Only the current proponents of BAU and global climate change sceptics would argue against the necessity of removing the steaming coal industry from the picture.

I have stated before that exporting our natural gas is a mistake for which we will pay dearly.We need this gas to transition to non-polluting energy sources,not only in power generation but as a transport fuel.

I am not against trade per se.What I am against is Free Trade and the relatively recent globalization of this ideology. This has resulted in grave and deleterious distortions of the economies of many,if not all countries and a disastrous distortion of the global financial system.

Fortunately,I believe that free trade and globalization are "dead ideologies walking". The execution will be messy.More like a hanging,drawing and quartering than a beheading.

I think you will find that reality is a long way from the current conventional wisdom.The climate change sceptics are not the only ones in denial.

So you are against free trade - what kind of trade are you ok with ?


Back in my younger days Iused to believe in "free trade".

Nowadays I still believe in the idea or the concept.

But the actual history of socalled free trade has been a disaster for the working classes of people -my people- in the United States.

It has been an essential part of the mechanism by which we went from the world's largest creditor nation to the worlds largest debtor nation, teetering on the brink of collapse possibly.

It sure as xxxx enabled a lot of "free enterprise " hypocrites to become super rich in the short term , meaning a few decades, while we exported our industrial base and imported our consumer goods.

But in the end,they may very well have purchased thier fortunes at the price of thier worst nightmare-a take over by European type socialists.All those guys who used to make a good or at least passabble living at the steel mills , auto plants, furniture factories, textile plants, ad infinitium nowadays working -or not working- at McDonald's may not be too well educated on the average but they are not stupid and they are fast coming to some conclusions politically.

One-that there is plenty of money and purchasing power.
Two-that the system has been manipulated to deny them a fair share of it.
Three-that thier pay , if lucky enough to have a job,will not cover the essentials anymore, let alone fund the DREAM.
Four-they can at least have access to the doctor and the dentist by voting it into existence.

The old dam of conservative values such as paying your own way is leaking in many many places and it will soon burst on the medical and pharmaceutical front for good.Falling living standards and the ageing of the population gaurantee it.Once we pass the tipping point of health care, it's downhill (meaning easily accomplished as in hiking ) the rest of the way for a socialist flavored change in American politics.

I can't say when of course but within the next ten years we go Euro-socially.Unless we collapse.

But the new moguls and the old moguls will mostly manage to hang onto whatever portions of thier fortunes were invested in the right kind of assets-the kinds that won't disappear.

And after all in the long run we're all dead anyway.

I'm not real happy about this prediction in a lot of respects,but it comforts me that if my nieces and nephews do not rise to the top of the economic heap , they will at least not suffer from a lack of health care.

Paint me a realist.

I agree. I put the term "Free Trade" in the the same catch-phrase category as "Clean Coal". Free trade as we practice it has been anything but free.

I would take the exception with electricity. Nations will have a surplus or deficit of wind/hydro/solar power at any particular point in time. Selling/buying those surpluses allows greater penetration of renewable energy, as seen in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Sweden, etc.

It's not like consumer goods produced by low wage slaves. True, wind turbine plants might employ workers for low wages, but the wind and the sun which will produce energy for decades are beholden to no one.

thira - could you explain what my "straw man" is ?

And then provide some basis to support all your assertions - none of which are true in my mind.

In any case, the Desertec Plan is agnostic regarding globalisation and free trade - it simply proposes linking an Australian energy grid to a pan-Asian one to allow the use of 100% renewable energy (in both continents) in the long term (admittedly using gas as well in the medium term).

Given our finite supplies of other energy sources, I can't think of a more practical plan.

Starting from the bottom.

Given our finite supplies of other energy sources, I can't think of a more practical plan.

Even if there is no more practical plan to continue BAU, it does not make this plan practical. The difference between a problem and a predicament is that there are no solutions for a predicament. Read Greer.

In any case, the Desertec Plan is agnostic regarding globalisation and free trade

That's wrong. One can't invest such high sums to establish a trading mechanism, then not use it. It might not be totally free trade, but it does force trade in order to pay for the investment. That forced trade is a significant tilt towards free trade that makes any useful trade barriers politically infeasible.

Is free trade bad? That's too deep right now, but a country's politics can change and no one seems to want free trade with North Korea.

The straw man you are setting up is saying that the building of this energy infrastructure is impossible. The argument is that it doesn't end up nearly as practical as you think it is. By setting up a straw man, you are essentially saying that your mind is closed.

Even if there is no more practical plan to continue BAU, it does not make this plan practical. The difference between a problem and a predicament is that there are no solutions for a predicament.

Where did Gav say "to continue BAU"????... YOU set up the straw man, or rather a red herring, fallacy.

I may want steak for dinner, that does not mean I will thumb my nose at potatoes if it is all I have. The same goes for a lower BTU lifestyle. I'll give up personal transport. I'll give up (happily) globalization. But I'd like an electric grid, even if it rations via price or rolling brownouts.

If I follow your line of thought that b/c BAU is not possible I should give up practical plans for renewables and integrated grids, then I can extrapolate that I may also give up bikes, hand tools, my left leg, etc... wait, why would I do that?

Gav - The straw men - You implied that I believe building energy distribution grids is impossible and that I did not believe in trade.I stated nothing of the sort in my in my first post nor later.
This is deliberately misrepresenting what I said in order to further your own case - setting up a straw man.

Apparently hell hath no greater fury than a technocopian scorned.

The Desertec Plan,agnostic or otherwise,is off with the fairies.If,in fact,you can't think of a more practical plan then I rest my case.

You indeed did say "What I am against is Free Trade"

I think we understand your point, given the other posts below from you. I don't happen to agree, but that's one advantage of free speech.

With the greatest respect to Big Gav - and our SE Asian cousins - I think such grand structuralist plans are completely nuts. I agree with the comments above that the very last thing we should be doing is selling our impressive natural gas reserves ... we can more than survive quite well without doing so. As for a "SE Asian grid network" - I think we will be flat out creating a sustainable grid in this country, and that will take years and years.

Even though places like South Australia have huge potential on a lot of fronts (geothermal, solar, wind, wave, and of course, uranium) to posit a "SE Asian" energy grid is simply to ignore just about all the issues that we confront. We burn very dirty coal, and we have an almost-failed hydroelectric system on the mainland that cost the Australian public a fortune. I think we need to forget Asia entirely, and see if we can sort out our own backyard - at least a little.

It reminds me of Kevin Rudd's (and others') pathetic attempts to score the 2018 or 2022 Soccer World Cup - it is small-nation over-reach that is toe-curling in the embarrassment it causes.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme was primarily about turnoing water inland for irrigation. The hydro-electric capaicty that came with it was a bonus.

With the greatest respect to Big Gav - and our SE Asian cousins - I think such grand structuralist plans are completely nuts.

No matter how mad it seems to my mind we will eventually have to implement such grand structuralist schemes...even if BAU is not sustainable

both BAU and "this is nuts camps" are missing the point IME

More technocopian nonsense
Absolutely true, butt we need to approach this from an existential viewpoint, and do wjat is right no matter what the results.
As Camus pointed out in Myth of Syphilis, he was content and joyous in the act itself.
Go ahead, the feedback loops may surprise us.

Myth of Syphilis

I think you mean Sisyphus! Ha!

I thought that sentence read pretty well as-is :-)

While I'm in favour of free trade, I do note that Syphilis was one of the first Spanish imports from North America...

I tend to agree with thirra. Australia should be conserving natural and coal seam gas, not flogging it cheaply a.s.a.p. as part of official policy. Gas is what will keep trucks on the road and tractors on the farm when diesel is $5 a litre. I do think that Australia should build several high capacity HVDC lines creating a strong national grid. That might tip the economics of desert coast wind and inland solar, also geothermal if they can get it to work. The startup money should come from halving the $A43bn fibre optic cable budget in favour of wireless or satellite internet (which I have).

When those kind of piggy banks are exhausted I still doubt that renewables will have made much dent on Australian coal emissions. We won't have any surplus electricity to export even in a reciprocal deal. Coal and LNG exports are already doing that in batch mode not continuous. I'm suspicious of gas pipes and power cables that cross language zones or the seabed since they are easy targets. Basslink underwater HVDC joined Tasmania to mainland Australia. It was supposed to export hydro power but ended up mainly importing coal power for zinc and aluminium smelters.

I guess it boils down to the fact that with 22m people Australia's large resources still need conserving. Dare I suggest that Asia has too many people for its resource base.

A plan designed by anti-nuclear advocates clearly, Australian based, and steeped in desperation. This Utopian and expansive plan is based on trying to shape not Australia but all the Asian countries mentioned energy policy which clearly is going in a nuclear (among other directions).

The Chinese are planning now and started building their 130 to 160 GWs of nuclear. India will be developing 400 GWs of nuclear. S. Korea and Japan are both planning to going to at least 59% nuclear with the latter adopting a version of the Indian fast-reactor plan. Indonesia and Malaysia are both rampping up their nuclear safety infrastructure, along with Vietnam.

Nuclear power wasn't mentioned at all.

However shifting to clean, affordable and renewable energy sources rather than continuing an extract and pollute based energy generation paradigm using a finite fuel supply seems to be common sense - why is presumably why the nuclear power dead end is ignored.

The nuclear power PR campaign had been in high gear for a decade now, with just one very over-budget and over-time disaster in Finland to show for it in the West, and some new capacity in China. We'll see how much of your "planned" nuclear fleet actually gets built.

Until recently, I to was of of the opinion, that we should be hoarding our gas for the forthcoming oil shock. What I ahve come to realise is that sovereignty of resources is pretty thin veneer. The resources only have value when you can develop them and it won't matter how much gas is under Australian territory in the future if we cannopt muster the necessary capital to exploit it.

Woodside and Chevron et al are only going to drill for gas if they can sell it profitably and supplying it to 22 million Aussies is just not a big enough market to justify the capital expense needed to tap the gas. The story for oil is the same. Ditto gold, uranium, copper, lead and practically any other natural resource you can name. The capital costs, and therfore the risks, for these projects are hugeand if capital is not going to be adequately rewarded, it will not flow to the projetcs, therefore the reosurce has no value to the nominal owners if they cannot raise the capital themselves.

So I have come to the conclusion that Australias natural resources belong to the world and whover wants to risk their money to exploit them. We can insist that this is done to what we consider adequate environmental standards, and we can ask for a share of the profits in exchange for the rent of our stable political and social system, while you mine our minerals. But we do not have now, nor are we likely in the future to have the economic muscle to build the infrastructure and equipment necessary to supply only the domestic gas market without generating export income to pay for it.

Termoil,if Australia can't muster the resources to extract gas for domestic consumption,an unlikely scenario,then it will have to stay in the ground.It sure ain't going anywhere.However,I realize that leaving something for future generations is anathema to the dig it up and sell it off cheap crowd.After all,how is our grossly consumptive society going to pay for the Chinese junk, Japanese cars and so on,etc,etc ad nauseum.

As for your conclusion that Australian natural resources belong to the world - presumably you are Australian? Such a supine attitude,you place no value on your country apparently.With such as you in the population we don't need enemies.

The one basic principle I apply to projects like this is that (in a broadly historical perspective) resource constraints within a system tend to work themselves out by decreasing the complexity of the system. As in many other otherwise good ideas, this is a vast increase in complexity to a system suffering resource constraints.

Not that its a bad idea, but its unlikely to go anywhere.

Well it certainly isn't going to New Zealand, as we seem to have been left off the map, as usual. But we have a plan. Go back to a population of 80,000 and cannibalism. That is why we have abandoned education and infrastructure development in favour of heavy drinking, family violence, and the haka.

I actually think that NZ is in pretty good shape. You guys already get a large percentage of your electricity from hydro. Your government is tied for first place as the least corrupt on the planet. And there is a low and declining prevalence of religious fundamentalists. I expect the social and industrial fabric in NZ to hold.

Kiwis are more aware of peak oil than any other nation Google trends: peak oil, probably because of the near total lack of hydrocarbon resources. Transition Towns are sprouting up everywhere.

You have a low population density, ample rainfall, intact forests, and a mild climate all of which virtually guarantees food security. I imagine that NZ will end up trading crops for minerals with OZ.

Lastly, NZ is geographically remote and doesn't have any resources worth invading to acquire. If peak oil, global warming, and economic collapse rock the planet then NZ should avoid the worst of it.

From military, environmental, economic, social, political, agricultural, and general awareness perspectives I rank NZ as one of the best places in the world to weather peak oil.

It seems to me that when China is in extreemis they will come and take whatever energy they like.
Australia is Terra Nullius through Chinese eyes.
We might as well give it away as have it taken.
I prefer consenting sex to rape.

Q: How do you make love with a 300kg gorilla?

A: Whatever way the gorilla likes!

Hah,China,that reeeel scary gorilla up there.Not Bali or Phuket for those who are into the Asian delights.

Well, boys,China is in extreemis but it it is just not showing up in the conventional wisdom - yet.

China is a disaster waiting to happen - gross population overshoot;massive environmental damage caused by pollution,poor farming practices and poor water management;large ethnic minorities who are not happy with the domineering behaviour of the Han Chinese;a corrupt bureaucracy under only tenuous control by the central government;an economic bubble about to burst;millions of workers displaced from the provinces who will have nowhere to go and no income when the toy factories close down;massive overbuilding of infrastructure,much of it of very poor quality - need I go on?

Take all of the above(and more) and combine it with a central government with delusions of grandeur and a profound and justified fear of their own people.

Apparently you wish to take a supine attitude to China or any other foreign power who you perceive as having the might.You certainly have plenty of company in the Australian political establishment and in the sprawling,mindless burbs.

But there are citizens in Australia who will stand up for the independence of their nation regardless of the yeast people mentioned above.What the outcome will be is anybody's guess.Such Is Life.

And death.


... large ethnic minorities who are not happy with the domineering behaviour of the Han Chinese ...

Actually, China's ethnic minorities are pretty small overall as a proportion of the population:

As of the mid-2000s, the combined population of officially recognised minority groups numbered at 123.33 million, comprising 9.44% of mainland China and Taiwan's total population.

What everyone needs to recognise is that we all need to live on the same planet - and that, from the standpoint of the human race, all wars are civil wars.

There is, fortunately, no turning back to the days of White Australia. One of the consequences of this, however, is that belligerent nationalism and racist condescension is no longer a viable strategy for international engagement. While Thirra is not advocating this, Australia has recent experience of a political movement which did.

There are a great many technical obstacles to overcome to build something like this but there is also the small problem of needing consumers on the other end to ultiamlty pay for it. Delivering electricty to someones house is pointless if he cannot afford the appliances that convert the electricity into something useful, like heat for cooking or light, or 110 dB of thumping AC/DC tunes to excite the neighbours.

Electrifying Asia to the same extent as the West, would induce perhaps the biggest consumer boom at a scale that would dwarf even the vomit inducing gluttony we see in the West today. The call on mineral resources would be absolutley mindboggling, along with demand for food and all the other trappings that go with high consumerism. That being the case, I can see that it might just have a chance of getting up.

I don't think this is technically impossible, particularly with advances in electrical transmission efficiency.

I suppose it boils down to how much the Asian economies are willing to pay for something like this, but I can see these kinds of supergrids being a necessity as the world seeks to harness abundant but widely distributed renewable resources.

If I were living in say Germany and considering investing in solar in Africa I would insist on a hundred year lease of the ground at the absolute minimum.Then when it becomes necessary to fight over the nationalization of the infrastructure my grandkids would at least have the scrap of paper to help justify the fight.

Why would Germans need to own it ? They don't own Russian gas fields supplying them with gas. They don't own whatever uranium mines supply their soon-to-be-obsolete nuclear reactors. They don't own foreign farms that sell them food.

Once you have an interlinked super grid type set up everyone can sell power into it and consumers become less dependent on a single supplier, not more.

Once a country becomes dependent on an income stream its very hard for them to turn it off of their own accord - so the fear of being held hostage by a foreign supplier seems overblown - Asia is no more dependent on Australia for energy under this arrangement than it is under the current situation (where we ship coal, gas, uranium etc to them rather than transmitting power through a grid link).

Seems great, but kind of pointless though at this point, no? Isn't it enough to just get these plants producing and supplying local/national energy? In the nearterm, all they will be doing is displacing FF demand growth... I don't see anyone shutting down existing coal plants anytime soon.

Great comments everybody. DESERTEC-Asia's aim is to get people thinking on a larger scale, so I'm happy!

I have a few observations on the overall direction of the posts.

To you Australian resource nationalists (ie 'we need to conserve our gas for ourselves'), you haven't been reading the newspapers. Australia is ALREADY flogging off off its natural gas cheap to Asia. All a Pan Asian Energy Infrastructure will do is potentially provide a cheaper, more future proof route to market than LNG. Nothing wrong with that.

Next: yes, Australia has large gas supplies. But these are going to become less relevant after 2050 as renewables take over the load. Ergo, best to sell the supplies now while people want to buy them. Why hoard a progressively obsolete resource? Even if Australia ramped up natgas sales hugely, it will still be left with huge supplies and fewer buyers after 2050. Hoarding is thus dumb.

The other point I think gets missed is that some posters assume the whole system will be built at once off one big blueprint. It wouldn't. It would be built in stages. For those of you who say that Australia should expand its own HVDC system first, I totally agree. DESERTEC-Asia's point is to outline the the larger vision that incremental steps (like these) taken today can lead to. Ditto for Asia. They can invest in their own needed energy infrastructure upgrades with an eye to making them pluggable into a future interconnected Asian system using common standards. What's wrong with that?

Pundits argue the 21st Century may be marked by wars over resources. If 'Asia' is tethered to a common delivery system ('a common watering hole'), it increases multilateral interdependence. That reduces the benefits of brinksmanship by individual parties and increasing the 'positive sums' to be gained by cooperation. Separately, a common carrier infrastructure will lead to greater energy supply through more efficient investment price signalling and more effcient transport to market.

Thanks thanks thanks everyone for all your comments. I haven't head anything here I haven't heard before, but I do like the passion. That's the first step to fixing things!

staggart1 - member for 45 minutes.

stagart1 - pushing the company line? I suggest that you declare your interest.

I hereby declare my interest in fostering economic growth and clean energy in the 21st Century.

Errr - thirra - doesn't his user name make it obvious he is the Stewart Taggart referred to in the post ...

I think the most ludicrous statement so far is the claim that the natural gas has to be mined and sold before it becomes obsolete. Natural gas, oil and even coal will never become obsolete, if anything they will become much more valuable over time and any nation having these resources should think carefully about preserving there stockpiles for the future.

At this time at least in north america there is a glut of natural gas with canadian producers scaling back due to market conditions. Further investment in production is unlikely until the market improves.

Wind generation as well as solar thermal projects main problem here in the us is the transmission grid not extending out to the locations where the generation is optimal. As to who pays for the infrastructure seems to be the sticking point for now.

Former Saudi Oil Minister Sheik Yamani once said:

"The Stone Age didn't end because the world ran out of stones."

Enough said. I'm with him.

I think a good case can be made for coal and natural gas eventually becoming obsolete-although as a practical matter it is of no interest.If such a situation ever materializes, it will be a long time from now.

Let us say that forty years from now we have a very extensive wind and solar powered grid with adequate storage backstopped by a fleet of nukes.Let us say that the cost of electricity so generated is fifteen cents per kilowatt hour.

If natural gas is depleted severely, maybe there would be none be avalable at a price that can profitably be used to generate electricity.Hence any remaining in the ground would stay there unless used for some higher value purpose.

I don't expect such scenario to be witnessed by any of us reading this today but it seemsquite reasonable that it could come to pass a century from now, especially if the population has crashed and is constrained by the prevailing laws and ethics of that time from growing large again.

The need for metals could be met almost entirely by recycling.Residential heating needs would be mostly eliminated by super insulated houses and met with small quantities of biofuels or by solar collectors warming up a large built in thermal mass , etc.Or maybe everybody in Maine will just drain the pipes and jump on the train and spend the winter in Florida, except for essential caretakers and snow bunnies.

Really there is no reason life could not be very sweet a century or two down the road if we come thru the big crunch without reverting to a Conan the Barbarian world.

Incidentally those who are into fantasy worlds shoud try Robert E Howard.His Solomon Cane is a character to be remembered-a Puritan giant armed with an even bigger blunderbuss who frequently engages in mortal combat with demons of a material sort.

okay i didnt bother to explain my statement as to why oil and natural gas will never become obsolete.

just think of alternative uses besides generating electricity, ie. feedstock for fertilizers, plastics, dyes the list goes on probably endlessly.

it doesn't matter if we replace every one the of the existing coal, nat gas or oil fired power plants with some other technology there will still be myriad of uses for petrochem.

By way of throwing another wet blanket onto the speculation of a renewable future, there isn't enough rare earth metals to make the magnets required for the windmills required to replace the current grid. This is a resource problem for any technology that would require massive numbers of magnets in generators and alternators.

We can always use biogas instead of natural gas.

And you don't need rare metals in all windmill designs (or all car batteries for that matter - Tesla don't use any).

The whole rare metals (which aren't really all that rare) panic is just a way to beat up China and flog shares in small mining companies with prospects in Australia and Greenland (take it from a Perth boy - plenty of people do this sort of thing for a living).

take it from a Perth boy - plenty of people do this sort of thing for a living).

Ouch! I know.
I still feel the pain.

I was reading that the solar plant being built in the mojave desert (near los angeles) has a problem with water supply. The usage is to keep the mirrors clean and the quantity required is not readily available. Just another example of technology meets resource constraints.

There was a project design planned for Australia awhile back a large tower would draw in the surrounding air up the tower driving generating fans before the air exited out the top. I suspect the sheer size of the tower and the amount of materials required to build it gave pause.

Personally I like what the residents of hurricane prone regions of florida are doing, small solar powering dc freezers and lights.

I doubt water will be a serious constraint for power generation in southern california.

The solar tower idea for Victoria never made it - that one was abandoned a while ago.

The solar plant Solar Millennium is planning to build in Nevada (and the one you're probably referring to) caused an initial kerfuffle over its water use. Solar Millennium now plans to make it air cooled -- which they should have been politically astute enough to do in the first place, but weren't...

Is humanity high tech enough yet?
Take the LiFePO4 battery for example. Just 18 mm of it "glued" to the back of solar panels covering the same amount of space used for roads and highways, would do the trick IF robotically mass produced on the largest scale possible (and well insulated?). That is, storing a total global electric supply for at least a few days. However, imagine the nations using it as "the solution" only to invent a better, easier to build on a multi-terrawatt scale, longer lasting (with more cycles than the 2,000 to 8,000 or so), battery solution, or even, a cheaper mechanical or thermal storage approach (which is doubtful since "the mechanical" has already been perfected already)...

Do we have time to bet on pure research (and the nasty proprietary issues that follow? Perhaps this is a question for the super computers!

Do we really have a rare earth problem that can stop the whole (really efficient) electric car and turbine future? If so, we will have to sacrifice the (really good wind) turbines to mechanical ones that pump air into bladders deep below in the oceans.

If we are to "do" RE, we must have overcome problems with free trade and such.
~Perhaps this would better ease social tensions~
Big, giant green grids are a must, (I would think). Distributed systems, it seems, would be better if they could share with the rest of the world as they will be cast in intermittantcy too. I like largescale solar and wind. Sure, they may not be perfect but they will evolve into more efficient, (almost) non carbon powerplants capable of exponentiating past the oil economy IF the nimby's and lawyers don't kill 'em off before they can afford the robotic parts factories!

Congress should declare null and void any such "show stopping" litigation (as we could use the install jobs too)!