Sahara's solar power potential underlined

A report has higlighted that some patches of the Sahara reach 113 degrees F (45 degrees C) on many afternoons. It is, in other words, a gigantic natural storehouse of solar energy. And proponents say CSP could turn the Sahara's heat and sunlight into a major electrical source.

The Sahara Forest Project, which is testing solar plants in Oman and the UAE, proposes building CSP plants below sea level  so that seawater can flow into them and be condensed into distilled water for powering turbines and washing dust off the mirrors, reported

The report mentoined that a few years ago scientists began to calculate just how much energy the Sahara holds. "They were astounded at the answer. In theory, a 35,000-sq.-mi. (90,600 sq km) chunk of the Sahara — smaller than Portugal and a little over one percent of its total area — could yield the same amount of electricity as all the world's power plants combined. A smaller square of 6,000 sq. mi. (15,500 sq km) — about the size of Connecticut — could provide electricity for Europe's 500 million people."

"I admit I was skeptical until I did the calculations myself," said Michael Pawlyn, director of Exploration Architecture, one of three British environmental companies comprising the Sahara Forest Project.

Even as the area provides enormous opportunity, the report highlighted that scaling up the technology to produce meaningful quantities of electricity means building sprawling arrays of mirrors and pipes across hundreds of miles of remote terrain — and that will be expensive. Gerry Wolff, an engineer who heads DESERTEC, an international consortium of solar-power scientists, estimates it will cost about $59 billion to begin transmitting Sahara power by 2020.

It also shared that one of the drawbacks to CSP technology is that it works at maximum efficiency only in sunny, hot climates — and deserts tend to be distant from population centers. To supply Europe with 20 percent of its electricity needs, more than 12,000 miles (19,300 km) of high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) cables would need to be laid under the Mediterranean, said Gunnar Asplund, head of HVDC research at ABB Power Technologies in Ludvika, Sweden.