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Desertec Solar Energy Farm

It has long been known that the Sun provides the Earth with far more energy than mankind could ever need. The problem has always been how to harness it. This dilemma was partially solved a number of years ago with the invention of solar panels, collectors which are able to convert energy from the Sun’s rays into electricity.

The problem then however was that the majority of the solar energy received by the Earth was and is received by the deserts. This land is typically owned by third world countries that have not had the money or political stability to exploit it. That is until a group of blue chip companies got together and formed the Desertec project.

What is the Desertec Project?

Desertec is an extremely ambitious, but very serious, project to build an enormous solar farm in the Sahara desert. The farm will span several countries and will provide electricity not just for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) itself but for the whole of Europe.

Naturally the cost will be counted in the billions but its capacity for profit is almost limitless. It will generate employment and investment in some of the world’s poorest countries and provide Europe, and eventually even the world, with a viable alternative to fossil fuels that doesn’t involve nuclear power.

Of course a project of this size is not without its problems or risks. Here are a few of the commonly asked questions and answers.

How Much Energy Can the Desertec Project Produce?

The project is based on the principle that the world’s deserts receive as much solar energy in just six hours as mankind consumes in a whole year. An area the size of the Nasser reservoir near Aswan in Egypt could produce 100 GW of energy, 17% of Europe’s energy needs. The hydroelectric facility at Aswan by comparison produces just 3 GW.

This facility would cover an area of 2,500 square kilometres, just 0.02% of the total area of the MENA region, so the capacity for future expansion would be huge.

Is It Wise to Rely on North African and Middle Eastern Countries for our Fuel Needs?

Presently the west relies almost entirely on the Middle East for oil and the obvious concern is that similar problems will arise as a result of basing the Desertec project in the MENA region. Will we be at the whim of unstable regimes and African dictators?

The difference between solar energy and oil is that oil can only be purchased from countries which have supplies. Every country has sunshine, it is just cheaper to harness it certain areas because it is more intense. If however the countries which house the project try to drive up prices and hold the west to ransom, it will become more economical to produce the electricity in the west. Since the economies of the host countries will likely become heavily dependent on the income the project generates, this will in fact give the west something like equal influence. The relationship will be less parasitic and more symbiotic, which can only be good for global relations.

When will the Desertec Project be up and running?

It is hoped that electricity production could begin as early as 2016, though the project will probably take until 2050 to complete. Of course increased investment could potentially bring this forward. Conversely, the project may expand and so take longer.

What are the benefits to the host countries?

The amount of investment is enormous. Figures as high of $555 billion have been quoted. The technology is fairly low tech compared to nuclear and can be produced in the host countries, thus creating jobs and investment as well as keeping costs down. Any African country wanting to use nuclear power would, even assuming the west permitted it at all, have to import all of the technology and the expertise needed to repair and maintain it.

How does the Desertec Project work?

The Desertec model doesn’t work in the same way as solar panels on a residential roof. Instead, massive mirrors reflect the Sun’s rays and magnify the heat, just like a magnifying glass can be used to burn a piece of newspaper (ever do that as a child?). The heat is used to drive steam turbines just like the heat from burning fossil fuels is used in conventional power stations or the heat from nuclear fission is used in nuclear power stations.

1 Comment to Desertec Solar Energy Farm

  1. June 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    There is a similar technology in America, near Las Vegas, using sterling engines to generate the electricity. Sterling engines are much more efficient than steam.

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