Solar concentrators in the desert

There has been talk about building a huge array of solar concentration mirrors in a desert to generate electricity. There are already a number of plants that do this. The mirrors concentrate the rays of the sun and the energy is converted from radiation into heat. The heat is used to create steam which drives a steam turbine generator producing current.

You could have solar concentrators in the desert. One idea is that fifty square kilometres of the Sahara desert covered with concentrators and turbines could provide enough power for the United Kingdom. What are the practical issues for these types of schemes?

In terms of the engineering they work. You need to locate the mirrors in a hot place where there is almost no cloud cover so that they can collect direct sunlight. The Sahara desert would be an ideal location.

You need to find a place where the sizeable land area is cheap – like the desert – and where you activities will not release soil carbon, and again a hot desert qualifies admirably here. Of course having such a huge land area covered with concentrators does prevent a security problem because they can be easy to destroy and the sheer size of the land area makes it hard to police.

Getting the electricity from the desert to the United Kingdom would need a very robust grid of pylons and transmission stations, to boost the power as it travels to prevent transmission losses. The way we do things now the transmission losses would be considerable – from the middle of the Sahara to the United Kingdom might involve a transmission loss of 30% of the power generated although here are ways to considerably reduce this loss if the reduction is cost effective; it may not be, because, after all the source of the power – sunlight – is free.

This is an environmentally friendly way of generating electricity. The carbon dioxide emission savings would be vast.

It makes sense to install concentrators supplying the towns and cities that are located on the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea – places like Tripoli and, Cairo and it will also work well for cities like Casablanca. The energy would come at a cost which will comprise mainly of the initial capital investment. There is probably scope for those states to sell some to Spain and Italy and Greece. Going further afield may be the next logical step.

By first providing the electricity to the states where the concentrators are located you give them a stake in the technology, a source of income and the logistical need to safeguard the plant. If the power is cheap enough industry can be established to use it – particularly high energy consuming industry.

There is only one problem in this idea – the sun does not shine at night. You will produce electricity intermittently. Daytime power can be useful for air conditioning as well as appliances but the problem of storing electricity is the biggest drawback of solar concentrator power.

Solar concentrators in the desert are an import part of the overall way to produce carbon free electricity. They are not a 100% solution, but then again, there is no single 100% solution.

One Response

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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