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csp: getting the energy to where it is needed

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Many people in the UK and elsewhere in Europe assume that CSP is not relevant to their needs because they are a long way from the kinds of desert where CSP comes into its own. However:

  • The UK and other countries in the north of Europe can benefit from 'desert' electricity without it being necessary for electrons to travel all the way from the Middle East or North Africa. This is explained on our page about the cascading principle.
  • Also, electricity from concentrating solar power plants may be transmitted directly to where it is needed using low-loss high-voltage direct-curret (HVDC) transmission lines.
A schematic view of the trans-Mediterranean HVDC transmission grid proposed by the Desertec Foundation. Click the image to enlarge it.

Average transmission losses over modern high-voltage DC transmission lines (HVDC) are about 3% per 1000 km. Allowing for the fact that there are also AC/DC conversion losses of about 1.5% to 2% (taking both ends of a transmission line together), electricity can be transmitted from North Africa to the UK with less than 10% loss of power.

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) argue that CSP plants—and wind farms—in North Africa and the Middle East can provide electrical power for those areas and for Europe with transmission losses that would be less than 15%.

The TRANS-CSP report calculates 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 (which is about 20% of the total). See also the page about CSP costs.

A Europe-wide HVDC supergrid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of reducing the effects of intermittency in wind power across Europe and to facilitate the trading of electricity (see electricity transmission grids).

Electricity transmission lines may have a visual impact but there are several ways in which any such effects may be minimised or eliminated.

More detail about HVDC transmission may be found in the Technologies section (WP01) of the TRANS-CSP report.

Although efficiencies are generally lower, it is feasible to use electricity from CSP to synthesise hydrogen and this may be transported by ship or pipeline to where it is needed. In the future, it may also be possible to synthesise other kinds of fuel using solar energy.

Although an HVDC supergrid will be needed for full realisation of the Desertec concept, the existing HVAC transmission grid will allow countries throughout Europe to begin to benefit from clean power from deserts on relatively short timescales.

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