Letter published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, 2007-03-16
WE HAVE THE POWER
Published: 16 March 2007
I am concerned that some misconceptions may be leading the Government
to overlook a source of clean energy with great potential for the UK and the rest of Europe.
I refer to concentrating solar power (CSP), the simple but effective
technique of using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat and
then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators,
just like a conventional power station. Solar heat may be stored in
melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the
night and on cloudy days.
Detailed studies by scientists and engineers at the German Aerospace
Centre show it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity
throughout Europe from North Africa and the Middle East using highly
efficient high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. The
potential is huge: less than 1 per cent of the world's deserts
could produce enough electricity to supply the world.
In the scenario described by the German team, CSP electricity would be
one of several renewable sources of energy and there would be an
overall increase in the resilience and security of energy supplies
compared with the situation now. There are substantial potential
benefits for people in countries of the sun belt, including desalination
of sea water using waste heat from CSP plants.
Malcolm Wicks, the Minister for Science and Innovation, said recently
that the Government had not made any assessment of using CSP to help
the UK meet its long-term energy requirements but was concerned that
amounts of surplus electricity required to develop the HVDC link would
require considerable investment. "The Government does not consider
this technology a priority for further work," he added.
But the German report calculates that CSP could become one of the
cheapest sources of electricity throughout Europe, including the cost
of transmission. Furthermore, the quantities of energy potentially
available are massive and the transmission losses are low.
Co-ordinator Desertec-UK, www.trec-uk.org.uk
Last updated: 2009-08-20