Through hydroelectric power, a dam on the Red Sea could solve the growing energy demands of millions of people in the Middle East and alleviate some of the region’s tensions pertaining to oil supplies.

In the Inderscience publication “International Journal of Global Environmental Issues,” Roelof Dirk Schuiling, a geochemical engineer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and his colleagues discuss the costs and benefits of one of the potentially most ambitious engineering projects ever proposed.

Current technology makes shifting and shaping the earth on a relatively large scale possible. In the near future, it might be possible to build dams large enough to separate a body of water as large as the Red Sea from the world oceans.

A similar macro-scale engineering project already is planned for the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. This seawater barrier will exploit the evaporative cycle and influx of seawater to generate vast quantities of electricity. As water evaporates from the Persian Gulf and collects in the atmosphere, it rains over land and collects in the Strait of Hormuz, which empties back into the Persian Gulf.

Schuiling suggests that a dam could stem the inflow of seawater into the highly evaporative Red Sea with the potential of generating 50 gigawatts of power. By comparison, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear station in the United States, has an output of 3.2 gigawatts.

“Such a project will dramatically affect the region’s economy, political situation and ecology, and their effects may be felt well beyond the physical and political limits of the project,” Schuiling said.

Schuiling and his colleagues point out that the cost and time-scales involved in creating such a hydroelectric facility are far beyond normal economical considerations. It is inevitable that such a macro-engineering project will cause massive devastation to existing ecologies. However, it also will 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 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,” Schuiling said.