Europe to Import Sahara's Solar Power
Source: Wired, Duncan Geere (6/22/10)
"In fact, covering just 5% of the Sahara with solar panels that are 20% efficient would provide enough energy to fuel the entire world."
Locals are pretty expert at turning the Sun to their advantage, using it to generate solar power. But there's far more energy generated than locals can use, so the European Union is negotiating for some of that power to be shipped north to energy-hungry countries in Europe. Such a scheme could help the EU meet its target of 20% of renewable energy use by 2020.
Hundreds of megawatts would be able to be generated in the next five years from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and delivered to Europe through undersea electricity cables known as "inter-connectors." Over time, that could be ramped up to thousands of megawatts as more projects are completed.
Those projects include the 400 billion euro Desertec scheme, which consists of photovoltaic solar power, concentrating solar power and wind farms.
There are some questions about the plan. Solar plants require water to keep the turbines clean and cool, which could hurt local populations as scarce water supplies are spread more thinly. There's the question of how to transmit the power to Europe without losing significant quantities. Lastly, others point out that it'll be difficult to separate out the renewable solar power from the coal- and gas-fired power plants operated in north African countries.
"Desertec as a whole is a vision for the next 20 to 40 years with investment of hundreds of billions of euros," said Europe's Energy Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger. "To integrate a bigger percentage of renewables, solar and wind, needs time."