Clean power from deserts

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The potential benefits of CSP are these:

  • Plentiful and inexhaustible supplies of clean electricity.
  • The Desertec concept may be applied in many places around the world and could have a huge impact in cutting worldwide emissions of CO2.
  • By breaking the connection between fossil fuels and wealth, CSP should help to break deadlocks in international negotiations about cutting CO2 emissions. Countries like China and India can leapfrog the 'dirty' phase of development, making cuts in CO2 emissions whilst maintaining or increasing their energy supplies. Countries like Saudi Arabia can move directly from being oil-rich to being solar-rich. The USA could potentially meet all its energy needs from the sunshine states of the south west.
  • Desalination of sea water. Waste heat from the turbines of CSP plants may be used to desalinate sea water. Supplies of fresh water as a by-product of CSP can have a major impact in alleviating shortages of water throughout the world, a problem that is likely to become increasingly severe with rising global temperatures—as has been highlighted by Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government.
  • Protection from direct tropical sunlight. An interesting side-effect of CSP is that the area under the mirrors of a solar plant is protected from the harshness of direct tropical sunlight. This means that:
    • CSP can keep things cool:
      • Solar collectors such as parabolic trough collectors may be used as a source of shade from direct tropical sunshine. They may be constructed on top of public or private buildings thus helping to keep them cool and reduce the amount of energy that need be expended on air conditioning. In a similar way they may be used on top of car parks, other public spaces or stables for animals to help keep them cool.


      • The waste heat from a solar power plant may also be used as a source of energy for air conditioning, yielding most cooling during the hottest parts of the day, when it most needed.
    • CSP may produce a horticultural bonus. Although the areas under solar collectors are shaded, they still receive quite a lot of light, quite sufficient for growing plants and without the damaging effect of direct desert sunlight. Thus land that would otherwise be useless for any kind of cultivation could become very productive. An obvious problem is that plants need water and that is not plentiful in deserts. But desalination of sea water (above) is another potential by-product of CSP and this may provide the fresh water that would be needed for CSP horticulture.
  • Creating new areas of usable land. For the reasons just described, the desert areas where CSP works best—that would not normally be suitable for horticulture or agriculture—may be brought into productive use, thus helping to alleviate shortages of usable land.
  • New industries, new jobs and new sources of income. CSP has the potential to become a large new industry in the world with many benefits in terms of jobs and earnings and without the worries associated with other sources of energy (more below). Many of the world’s deserts are in countries that are relatively poor so we may suppose that concentrating solar power could be a particularly welcome new source of income (via taxes or from the sale of solar electricity).
  • Clean transport by road and rail. Plentiful and inexpensive supplies of electricity from CSP would open up many interesting possibilities for taking fossil carbon out of transport by road and rail. For example, the latest generation of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) with larger batteries can, for many journeys, be run largely on renewable electricity from the mains—batteries may also be topped up from photovoltaic panels on each vehicle's roof. Railways can be electrified and run on renewable electricity.
  • Safeguarding global security:
    • Reduced risks of conflict over shortages of energy, water, food and usable land. In a speech to the UN in April 2007, Margaret Beckett, UK Foreign Secretary, identified climate change and consequent shortages of energy, water, food and land as potential sources of conflict in the world, threatening global security. By alleviating shortages of those resources, CSP can reduce those risks.
    • Improved relations amongst different groups of people. Collaboration to develop the Desertec concept amongst countries of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA), with substantial benefits for all concerned (especially countries in MENA), can help to reduce tensions, improve relations and build understandings amongst different groups of people—a positive alternative to the confrontational policies of recent years. It is also very much in line with Nicolas Sarkozy's call for a new trans-Mediterranean partnership to speed economic development in Africa countries (in a speech that he made after his election as the next French president).
    • Helping to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Because of the very close relationship that exists between nuclear power and nuclear weapons (described by Kofi Annan as the "Janus-like character of nuclear energy") and because CSP, with other renewable sources of energy, largely eliminates the need for nuclear power, CSP can help worldwide efforts to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • By contrast with oil, which often has a zero or negative benefit for local people, most of the bonuses from CSP will benefit local people and cannot easily be siphoned off elsewhere.
  • CSP may be used to power inergy-intensive industrial processes, including the synthesis of hydrogen or other fuels.
  • Avoiding the many other problems with nuclear power. Apart from helping to control the spread of nuclear weapons, CSP provides the means of avoiding the many other disadvantages of nuclear power.

Several of these bonuses from CSP are illustrated in this photo-montage:

CSP bonuses

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