Desert solar energy could power the world

Solar-panel-area-to-supply-the-world
By Nadine May [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a calculation that can be done on the back of an envelope. Gerhard Knies a German particle physicist was the first to estimate how much was required to meet humanity’s demand for electricity. In 1986, in direct response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he scribbled down some figures and arrived at the following remarkable conclusion: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year.

If just a fraction of this energy was captured an area of Saharan desert the size of Wales could, in theory, power the whole of Europe.

A project called Desertec is a largely German led initiative that aims to to provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 through a vast network of solar and wind farms stretching right across the Mena region and connecting to continental Europe via special high voltage, direct current transmission cables, which lose only around 3% of the electricity they carry per 1,000km. The tentative total cost of building the project has been estimated at €400bn (£342bn). There are numerous technical, political, security and financial hurdles to overcome but over the past two years, the initiative has received significant support from some of the biggest corporate names in Germany, a country that already leads Europe when it comes to adopting and developing renewable energy, particularly solar.

In the autumn of 2009, an “international” consortium of companies formed the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) with weighty companies, such as E.ON, Munich Re, Siemens and Deutsche Bank, all signing up as “shareholders”. Germany’s announcement earlier this year that, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, it was to speed up its total phase-out of nuclear power suddenly pulled the Desertec idea into much sharper focus. Coupled with faltering international negotiations and increasingly dire warnings on climate change – just last month the International Energy Agency warned that the world is headed for irreversible climate change if it doesn’t start reducing carbon emissions within five years – it would seem the time is now right for an idea of such scale and ambition.

The first phase of the Desertec plan is set to begin in Morocco next year with the construction of a 500MW solar farm near to the desert city of Ouarzazate.

Why can’t the UK, with it’s strong history in science and engineering, play a bigger role in visionary projects like this?

See the original article here: Could the desert sun power the world?

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