Clean power from deserts

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CSP around the world

Back to Concentrating Solar Power

Although the Desertec concept was developed for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, very much the same ideas can be applied in many other parts of the world. The potential is huge:

  • Using CSP, less than 1% of the world's deserts could generate as much electricity as the world is now using. Representative areas of desert for the World, for the EU, and for the Middle East with North Africa, can be seen on a map.

  • It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for 3000 km or more using highly-efficient HVDC transmission lines (see electricity transmission grids).

  • Researchers at the German Aerospace Centre have calculated that 90% of the world's population lives within 2700 km of a desert and could be supplied with solar electricity from there.

Realising this potential can produce dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions from electricity generation and help 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 whole of the USA and the populated parts of Canada may be powered from the south western states of the USA.

Click the thumbnail for an enlarged map showing where CSP plants may be set up around the world.

The map shows where CSP plants may be set up, ranging from areas that are 'suitable' (pale yellow) through 'good' (bright yellow) up to 'outstanding' (orange)—click on the map to enlarge it.

Much more detailed maps of direct solar irradiation levels around the world may be seen in:

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Most of the USA, populated parts of Canada, and all of Mexico may be supplied from Mexico and the southwestern states of the USA (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado). A report from the American Solar Energy Society says: "… analysts evaluated the solar resource in the Southwest [of the US] and … found that CSP could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity." (Tackling Climate Change in the US, January 2007, page 17, emphasis added).
  • All of China may be supplied with electricity from CSP plants in the sunny north and west of the country.
  • All of India and Pakistan may be supplied with electricity from the Thar desert bridging the border between those two countries (see Thar Desert – The NextGen Powerhouse of India).
  • Most of Chile and much of Argentina may be supplied from the Atacama desert in northern Chile.
  • CSP plants in a small portion of the Australian desert could easily meet all of Australia's needs for electricity. There is export potential to Papua New Guinea and even as far as Indonesia and Singapore.
  • All of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa may be supplied from the Northern Cape, the Namib desert and elsewhere in those countries.
  • The whole of Iran and Iraq may be supplied from deserts in those countries, with substantial potential for exports as well.
  • CSP plants in the south, west and east of the Sahara could meet all the electricity needs of countries in West Africa (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic) and also East Africa (Sudan, Etitrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya).
  • And of course, CSP plants further north could supply electricity to the whole of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

In most of these regions, the potential is so large that, in principle, CSP plants could meet all existing electricity demands, and in many cases considerably more. With heat storage and hybridisation with gas firing, CSP may provide any combination of base-load power, intermediate load and peaking power (see CSP: generating electricity without the sun). But in line with the recommendations of the TRANS-CSP report, it would be wise to develop CSP in conjunction with a wide range of other renewable sources of electricity such as wind power, wave power, tidal power, biomass and so on.

In many of these regions, but not all, it would be feasible to create fresh water by desalination of sea water (see CSP bonuses and CSP and the desalination of sea water), and it may also be possible to develop horticulture in the shaded areas under the solar mirrors of CSP plants (see CSP bonuses). There are potential advantages in locating energy-intensive industries in deserts around the world.

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Last updated: 2010-03-18 (ISO 8601)