Clean power from deserts

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INDEPENDENT LETTERS: SOLAR POWER

AFRICAN SOLAR-POWER ELECTRICITY COULD BE THE SOLUTION FOR EUROPE

Published: 07 April 2007

Sir: It is not quite right to say "Sicily to build world's first solar power plant" (28 March). Power plants of this type - using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators like a conventional power station - have been operating in California since 1985, and 500,000 Californians get their electricity from this source. A new plant of this type went on stream only last week in Spain.

CSP works best in sunny deserts and, of course, there are not many of these in Europe. But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly efficient "HVDC" transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3 per cent per 1,000km, solar electricity may, for example, be transmitted from North Africa to London with only about 10 per cent loss of power. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by the wind energy company Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

The potential is massive. It has been calculated that an area of desert measuring about 110km x 110km, if covered with CSP plants, would produce as much electricity as the EU consumes. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south-western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity."

In the recent "TRANS-CSP" report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. That report shows in great detail how Europe can meet all its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions, and phase out nuclear power at the same time.

DR GERRY WOLFF

MENAI BRIDGE, ANGLESEY


A response published on 2007-04-09:

What about the water?

Sir: Dr Wolff says installing 110 kilometres square of CSP steam generators in a hot desert could provide sufficient electricity for the whole of the EU (letter, 7 April). But how much fresh water would that consume, and where would it come from? We must accept that this problem isn't going to be solved by a single solution but some ideas may have a place and need to be tried. Me? I shall continue to plant trees (via Men of the Trees in Australia) and join Godfrey Bloom down the pub (letter, 7 April).

PETER JANIKOUN

MAIDENHEAD, BERKSHIRE


Last updated: 2009-08-20 (ISO 8601)