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Tap deserts for energy

Letter published in the Daily Mail on 2008-06-24, p. 58.

THE SINGLE most effective answer to the problem of rising energy costs is to take advantage of the truly monumental quantities of energy falling as sunlight on the world’s deserts.

Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplied by the area of desert around the world, this is several hundred times as much energy as the world is now using.

It’s possible to tap in to this cornucopia using the simple, proven technology of concentrating solar power (CSP), using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat and using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station.

With CSP, fewer than 1 per cent of the world’s deserts could generate as much electricity as the world is now using.

The UK may begin to import solar electricity from North Africa quite soon, using existing transmission lines. As quantities of electricity increase, transmission lines may be upgraded.

CSP plants are quick to build and capacities can be ramped up fast.

With heat storage and back-up sources of heat, CSP plants can deliver power at any time of the day or night.

Researchers at the German Aerospace Centre have calculated that CSP is likely to become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission.

These Desertec proposals are underpinned by detailed research at the German Aerospace Centre, the U.S. Department of Energy and elsewhere.

Dr GERRY WOLFF, Coordinator of Desertec-UK, Anglesey.

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